Thailand shrimp workers face human rights abuses

The Environmental Justice Foundation, a UK-based non-profit organisation working internationally to protect the environment and defend human rights, has recently published a report and a video entitled The Hidden Cost: Human Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Shrimp Industry. Many of the shrimp sold at retail in Canada are labelled as product of Thailand.

The detailed report claims that:

  • The Thai shrimp industry is heavily reliant on migrant workers, many of whom are trafficked and face arduous journeys before having to endure abusive conditions in Thailand’s exploitative shrimp factories.
  • The pre-processing stage of production, known as peeling sheds, where the heads, veins and hard shell are removed, is the most labour-intensive and least regulated aspect of an otherwise sophisticated supply chain. The informal nature of this step in the supply chain makes it particularly prone to poor working conditions, breaches of national and international labour standards, child and forced labour, exploitation and abuse.
  • Conservative estimates put the number of unregistered peeling sheds in operation at approximately 400, though Thai NGO the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) puts this figure closer to 2,000.
  • Through interviews with workers, EJF documented reports of trafficking, confiscation of identification documents, withholding of pay, forced detention and bonded labour.
  • In Samut Sakhon, Thailand’s main seafood processing region, there are thought to be more than 400,000 migrant workers from Burma alone. A 2011 United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking report concluded that more than one third of Burmese seafood processing workers in Samut Sakhon had been trafficked into forced labour.
  • National policies that exist to facilitate legal migration and the registration of illegal migrants are short-term, conflicting and lack enforcement mechanisms. Their complexity and high costs create vulnerabilities to trafficking and deter victims from communicating with authorities.
  • Thai police and border officials frequently subject migrants – documented or undocumented – to harassment, 
  • extortion and arrest. Insiders are also known to have informed owners of abusive factories before an impending raid by Thai authorities.

The report contains extensive recommendations, including that:

  • The international community should actively consider trade embargoes on Thai shrimp in the absence of conclusive, independent evidence that action is being taken to combat human trafficking, forced and bonded labour in the industry as a whole.
  • Retailers and buyers of Thai shrimp should require 100 per cent traceability of Thai shrimp and rigorous third-party monitoring of pre-processing facilities in their supply chains. Buyers of Thai shrimp should commit to conclusively demonstrate that their supply chains are free from trafficking in persons and labour violations.
  • Retailers of Thai shrimp should provide clear and robust information to consumers on the origin of fisheries products, and the actions that they have taken to guarantee that they are not connected to human rights abuses, labour violations or environmental damage.

The 27 page report and 7.5 minute video are available at http://www.ejfoundation.org/shrimp/hiddencostfilm

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