Fighting Slavery in Thailand’s Fishing Industry | Andrey Sawchenko

We spend a lot of time caught-up in our own lives. Wrapped up in the dramas, big and small, that revolve around us and our nuclear worlds. Every so often, the opportunity arises to step out of our own little realities and into something bigger, into the lives of people experiencing challenges on a level we previously could not imagine. This is the kind of opportunity International Justice Mission (IJM) presented Andrey. The acceptance of this opportunity is what led Andrey to pack up his education in law along with his material possessions and leave his home in Canada for one on the other side of the globe.

“You know, I’m not somebody who thought that this would be my life’s work,” Andrey explained. “I’m not somebody who necessarily felt like it was all about Bangkok, or it was all about Thailand. Honestly, Jen and I, my wife and I, have just wanted to be able to say ‘Yes’ to what we felt like God was inviting us to do.” Andrey now spends his time working to weed out something at the core of Thailand’s fishing industry; modern slavery. A task no less daunting in reality than it sounds on paper. According to a recent report put together by the International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation in partnership with the International Organization for Migration, Asia and the Pacific region leads the world in the number of victims of forced labor, with 4 victims per 1,000 people (note: the report does cite lack of information from some regions, such as the Arab States and the Americas, as one caveat to the published numbers and rankings). However, Andrey is remarkably undeterred by the discouraging numbers. Instead, he remains steadfastly optimistic in his belief in IJM’s ideology and method. And he knows that in the thick of it is exactly where he needs to be.“In the end it wasn’t law profession that I really loved, but this ability to be right in the middle of seeing people who have their lives sort of stolen from them in some way, their things, what God has given them, stolen away from them, to be a part of wanting that back and restoring them to wholeness,” Andrey said. “Of course we can do that in Canada or in the US as lawyers, but the thing that really grabbed me was the chance to do it in places where the need for justice from real acts of violence was really staring me right in the face.”

So, staring down suffering and violence, Andrey is working with local justice systems to rescue victims, restore them to a full and healthy life, properly punish perpetrators, and keep these cases moving efficiently and effectively through the courts. In other words, he is working to rescue, restore, restrain, and represent; the four pillars of IJM’s method. All is based around the idea that systems already in place are capable of functioning properly, the potential to eradicate modern slavery is there, they just need some help. Andrey sees Thailand as a particularly promising case when it comes to inspiring systems around the world to seek the help they need.“Right now, there’s an opportunity in the Thailand fishing industry to see a real change in the way the industry operates,” Andrey said. “Up until now, the industry has operated by using modern slave labor. I think if we can be a part of making something happen here, in this space, where there’s been a lot of violence and exploitation, then I think that’s a picture of what’s possible all around the world in different supply chains where there currently is modern slavery.”

This is where I come in. Trinity Western Alumni Association asked me to go meet Andrey in Thailand, document moments of his life there through videography and interview him about his work and bring out the reasoning behind his dedication. Of course, I enjoyed the opportunity to see a little of Thailand, and Trinity Western enjoyed the opportunity to have Andrey make them look good, but most rewarding was the chance to spread the word about IJM’s mission and to contribute to an increased awareness of both a major issue and an effective solution.The previously mentioned report by the International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation, puts the total number of victims of modern slavery in the world today at just above 40 million. That means 40 million people who have everything to gain from the success of people like Andrey and organizations like IJM. An especially sobering statistic when it’s also taken into account that one in four of these victims is a child, who has an entire life in front of them, brimming with potential. The road to realizing this potential, as opposed to allowing it to waste away in forced labour camps, to wither under corrupt, ineffective justice systems, is a long one with plenty of obstacles. But, some comfort exists in knowing there are people out in the world doing all they can to light the way.

“One of the things I’ve been thinking about now, is the Lord’s Prayer; ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’” Andrey said. “Well, Ok, I get I’m on earth. What does His will look like? What does heaven seem like? And I think as I want to have His heart for the things that are around me, I think He is giving me that. And I’m sure that there is no slavery in heaven.”

Directed by Jayme Cowley at Parafauna Films
Additional footage provided by IJM
Statistics from &

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