UNIAP convenes public-private sector dialogue on labour abuses in the Thai seafood supply chain
Bangkok, June 2012 - Key players in the seafood industry, including Thai shrimp factory owners, industry associations, and US importers and retailers met with Thai government agencies, human rights interest groups, and United Nations bodies to discuss the issue of labour abuses including human trafficking in the Thai-U.S. seafood supply chain. The purpose of the meeting, organised jointly by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., was to identify concrete solutions to eliminating exploitative labour situations in the industry through public-private sector consultation and collaboration.
Key challenges in dealing with labour abuses, exploitative brokering, and human trafficking in shrimp factories and sub-contracted peeling sheds were the focus of discussions, focusing on how the industry has been dealing with these issues to date, and what more needs to be done. Participants emphasized the need to strengthen law enforcement and industry self-regulation through certification systems and industry standards, encouraging all stakeholders to ensure the safety and dignity of migrant workers, and discourage human trafficking abuses. Other key recommendations included ensuring transparency in supply chains, improving recruitment channels, and more open dialogue and increased communication between all stakeholders. An industry improvement programme incorporating checks and balances monitored by all stakeholders was amongst the longer-term approaches identified, and the Royal Thai Government highlighted their ongoing efforts to improve working conditions of migrant workers in the Thai aquaculture, fishing, and seafood industry through a project initiated by the government in cooperation with ILO, and the provision of education for children accompanying migrant workers.
Labour abuses have been extensively documented in Thailand’s seafood industry, including human trafficking. Cases of migrants forced to work in the shrimp industry in slavery-like conditions – debt bondage, forced labour, unpaid wages, physical violence, control through threats and withholding of documents, and sometimes sexual abuse – are estimated to be in the tens of thousands just in the province of Samut Sakhon alone, according to research by the Labour Rights Promotion Network and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 2009.
Representatives from different points in the seafood supply chain acknowledged the need for them to take responsibility for human trafficking and slavery in every component part of the industry. “This is a serious issue. It is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of where you are in the supply chain, to help ensure that human trafficking and slavery do not occur,” said Mr. Adam Frisch, Director of Purchasing, for Beaver Street Fisheries, a leading supplier of seafood in the USA.
“This meeting is an opportunity for all parties to put forward ideas and talk openly. One organisation cannot work alone to stop human trafficking. Industry bodies such as the Thai Frozen Foods Association, retailers such as Wal-Mart, suppliers and governments must all work together to support anti-human trafficking programmes,” said Dr. Poj Aramwatananont, Honorary President of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA).
As follow up to the event, all participants, including suppliers and retailers, agreed to take action within their respective organisations and address human trafficking within the Thai seafood industry. “As a buyer we will fully support initiatives that address this issue. This forum is a great start and we will follow up through discussions with suppliers and customers alike,” stated Mr. Mahaboob Althaf Ali Khan, Head of International Sourcing, The Fishin’ Company Ltd.
“Working with our human resources team, we will ensure that all management and employees within our organisation are aware of this issue. We will also insist that any third party suppliers employing migrant workers abide by the law and ensure they are not involved in human trafficking,” said Rungroj Rungrojsakhon of The Union Fishing Company.
Mr. David Henry, Walmart’s Senior Manager for Ethical Sourcing Compliance, stated, “At Walmart, helping people live better has always been core to our mission and the foundation of our business. We are excited to partner with UNIAP in their critical initiative to explore innovative ways of eradicating human trafficking from seafood supply chains in Thailand. This multi-stakeholder engagement is an important step in developing collaborative solutions to the challenges faced in the Thai seafood industry. We look forward to continued engagement with UNIAP and other stakeholders in the region as we work together to help people in the supply chain receive the respect, dignity and opportunity they deserve by creating a truly innovative, ethical and sustainable supply chain that protects both our planet and the communities we touch."
Dr Lisa Rende Taylor, Chief Technical Advisor for UNIAP, reflected on the responses from the Thai and US private sector representatives, and on the responses of government to private sector concerns: “Engaging the private sector in addressing human trafficking within supply chains has been a positive experience so far – it’s an important step in the right direction. Attention from US buyers and retailers seems to have increased the motivation of local actors to deal with the abusive conditions within some of these factories. Addressing human trafficking is now needed to maintain the business of these buyers – and their bottom line.”
Developments on this initiative will be shared by UNIAP in the coming weeks.
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