Thai Labour NGOs during the ‘Modern Slavery’ Reforms: NGO Transitions in a Post-aid World

Alin Kadfak*, Miriam Wilhelm, Patrik Oskarsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


This article explores how domestic NGOs responded to new opportunities that emerged during the 2015–2020 ‘modern slavery’ labour reforms in Thailand's seafood sector. The analysis takes place against the background of civil society transitions in a ‘post-aid’ setting. Like NGOs in other middle-income countries, the Thai NGO sector has struggled to remain relevant and financially viable in recent decades, as international donors have withdrawn from countries with steadily declining poverty rates. As a result of the ‘developmental successes’ of Thailand, the NGO sector needed to rethink its strategies. Examining the modern slavery labour reform process provides an opportunity to understand the strategic choices available to NGOs in the face of several important phenomena: the emergence of new actors such as international philanthropic donors; the growing influence of the private sector in governance matters; and the need for NGOs to balance multiple strategic alliances. The article draws on in-depth interviews to explore narratives of Thai labour NGO adjustments during the period of the modern slavery reform. The study contributes to a better understanding of how NGOs in post-aid countries transition and adapt to changing circumstances by embracing new roles as ‘sub-contractors’ for emerging global philanthropic donors and as ‘partners’ of private corporations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-600
Number of pages31
JournalDevelopment and Change
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MWRN has also provided welfare committee training for member companies of the Thai Tuna Industry Association (TTIA) in recent years. Another major seafood company, CP Foods, had worked closely with MWRN and the Labour Protection Network. In this way, NGOs like MWRN and LPN have helped establish alternative channels for workers’ voices within Thai companies and have even mediated labour rights issues — although it is worth noting that the informant quoted above considered the worker welfare committee at TU factories to be more successful than those at other companies. Apart from direct partnerships between companies and Thai labour NGOs, direct contributions have also been made to set up labour grievance channels. For instance, LPN received financial support from TTIA to establish two call centres in Samut Sakorn Province, to support fish and seafood workers.

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to the three anonymous reviewers and the editors for constructive and insightful comments. For useful feedback on an earlier version, we would like to thank Prof. Jonathan Rigg for his kind support. We would also like to thank all the informants who took time to respond to our questions. This research received support from the Swedish Research Council (VR) grant no. 2018–05925 and the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (Formas) grant no. 2019–00451.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Development and Change published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of International Institute of Social Studies.

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