International Labor Rights Forum & Warehouse Workers United issued a briefing paper June 6, 2013, claiming Thailand's shrimp industry exploits a low‐paid workforce made up almost entirely of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, many of whom are trafficked into the country by labor brokers and are often subjected to labor exploitation and debt bondage. The report says these works endure "horrible working conditions, including under and non‐payment of wages, violations of minimum wage laws, long overtime hours, dangerous and unsanitary working conditions". The systematic denial of freedom of association and collectivve bargaining rights are common. Since Thailand has not ratified core ILO conventions, migrant workers have no legal right to freedom of association. Worse still, instances of forced and child labor are known to be widespread in the industry.
Although some observers argue that conditions in the large shrimp processing factories have improved, this briefing paper indicates inhumane working conditions and human rights violations continue to be a problem at even the most reputable factories. More specifically, this brief documents a number of serious violations of Thai law and international human rights standards at Narong Seafood, a model company and longtime supplier to Walmart. Violations at Narong’s principle shrimp processing facility in Samutsakorn, Thailand include utlizing underage workers, nonpayment of wages, charging workers excessive fees for work permits, and an ineffective auditing regime.
The facility, Narong Seafood Co. Ltd. in Samutsakorn, Thailand, is BAP certified. The Global Aquaculture Alliance has issued a statement saying it takes very seriously the accusations of labor abuse and is determining a corrective course of action to ensure that the shrimp processing plant cited in the brief is adhering to Thai labor laws and the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) standards.
The BAP management team is following up with Narong Seafood, which will be required to respond to all accusations in the report.
GAA said it is committed to promoting social responsibility through its BAP certification program. Processing plants and farms certified against the BAP standards must ensure a safe, healthy working environment. The BAP standards also address wages and other terms of employment and the use of child and forced labor. In total, the BAP processing plant standards contain 36 clauses relating to worker safety and employee relations. The BAP program is based on independent audits evaluating compliance with the BAP standards.
“These are serious allegations that need to be investigated. Through its BAP program, GAA takes its role in promoting fair labor conditions very seriously, so any report of abuse at a BAP-certified facility is a matter of great concern,” said BAP Standards Coordinator Dan Lee.
“The report calls on major players like Walmart to help drive up labor standards in the global seafood industry, and the BAP program provides an important tool for this job,” he added. “Some seafood certification programs side step the thorny issue of labor conditions. But, to its credit, GAA has adopted a comprehensive approach that attaches great importance to social issues.”
In March 2013 the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) carried out an investigation into human trafficking on Thai fishing boats, including the case of 14 Myanmar men rescued from a port in the Southern city of Kantang, all of whom the report claims had been trafficked and forced to work for up to 20 hours per day with little or no pay. The men reported having been subjected to bonded labor, forced detention, physical abuse and threats of violence on the boats and in port. All had been at sea for at least five months and spoke of beatings by senior crew. Two of the interviewees reported seeing a fellow crewmember tortured and executed for trying to escape as well as witnessing the murder of at least five other individuals. Another former boat worker interviewed on a separate occasion in March 2013 witnessed multiple murders and the victims’ bodies being thrown into the sea. The investigation resulted in the report Sold to the Sea.
Thailand’s seafood industry employs more than 650,000 people with exports totaling $7.3 billion in 2011.9 This includes the seafood processing sector, aquaculture and marine fisheries.
Read the report: The Walmart Effect: Child and Worker Rights Violations at Narong Seafood (PDF)
Read the report: Sold to the Sea (PDF) and see video below.