Buyers should not ‘cut and run’ from Thai shrimp, says labor rights organization

Undercurrent News

The International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) is calling for significant changes to the way Western companies source seafood from Thailand in the wake of a report from the Guardian, a UK newspaper.

The article linked shrimp sold by well-known retailers to forced labor and human trafficking on Thai fishing vessels selling fishmeal to Charoen Pokphand Foods, the Thai agribusiness giant. CP Foods has issued a strong defence of its business.

Since the release of the report, at least two retailers have publically suspended purchases from CP Foods, said ILRF, one of which is Carrefour (read all our coverage of the issue on our spotlight page).

Swift action when these issues arise is vital, and action from buyers can significantly improve conditions for the workers along their supply chains, the NGO said.

ILRF does not, however, advocate a cut and run approach, echoing CP Foods.

Cutting relationships with suppliers without first trying to address the underlying problems can leave exploited workers in bad situations without options for redress, it said.

Western companies should work with their Thai counterparts to make real changes that increase supply chain transparency, improve mechanisms to identify labor law violations and empower workers to report and seek remedy, said ILRF.

“The migrant workers in this sector are vulnerable for many reasons,” said Abby Mills, ILRF’s campaigns director.

“Companies have an important role to play in setting certain standards for their suppliers, and enforcing them all the way down the supply chain, that could dramatically improve livelihoods and working conditions for these workers. That kind of response begins to get at the root causes of why labor trafficking is so prevalent in the Thai seafood sector.”

ILRF recommends the following actions from Western retailers:

  • Meet with workers’ rights groups to identify risks and learn how supplier audits can be adapted to assist in empowering migrant workers.
  • Improve supply chain transparency by requiring suppliers to identify the names and addresses of all factories, farms, fishing vessels or other entities that contribute to the product being purchased before a supplier contract is awarded.
  • Include requirements in supplier contracts that all Thai fishing boats anywhere in the supply chain maintain an accurate crew manifest that is checked both on departure and on return to reduce the risk of migrant crew members being murdered at sea.
  • Prevent labor contracting abuse by requiring that any costs incurred for recruiting workers be borne by the employer, not the workers. Ensure that all workers have access to a contract that clearly outlines conditions of employment in a language they can understand, with regular pay stubs that itemize and explain any deductions.
  • Establish third-party monitoring by independent experts to conduct random inspections and interview workers about conditions in a place they feel safe to speak openly. Make findings public at least to the extent that they can be verified by workers’ organizations.
  • Provide for a complaint-driven investigation and remediation process that allows any person or organization to flag when a contractor or subcontractor is failing to comply with the terms of the supplier contract. Ensure that exploited workers have access to appropriate remedies and services, and are not left in situations that expose them to further exploitation.