By Fiona Robinson, SeaFood Business associate publisher and editor
Published on 16 June, 2013
The next time you enjoy a shrimp, will you be wondering whether it was produced by child or slave labor? This could depend upon what happens in the mainstream media in the near future with the release of the Environmental Justice Foundation’s report on human trafficking in Thailand’s seafood industry. The consumer backlash could be similar to that experienced by Gap, Nike, Walmart and other companies accused of producing goods made overseas by people who toiled in sweatshop conditions or were the victims of other labor abuses.
Workers’ rights have been increasingly discussed as seafood companies incorporate social responsibility into sustainable seafood sourcing policies. SeaFood Business Assistant Editor Melissa Wood tackled the topic in the July Top Story that will be available soon. Her research shows that while some work has been done on the issue, a lot remains to be addressed.
Some retail and restaurant companies have recently pushed the topic to the forefront in review of their sustainability programs. But for the companies that remain on the fence regarding their individual responsibility, the EJF report may be the motivation needed to make human rights a priority.
If you’re a supplier buying shrimp from Thailand and the topic hasn’t surfaced yet, are you going to wait until your company’s name is front-page news? Suppliers of shrimp and other seafood shouldn’t be hiding their heads in the sand over the issue; if you have addressed traceability in your supply chain then you should know whether the possibility of worker abuse exists at any point in the chain. The solution is not simply corrected by banning imports from Asia; even the U.S. seafood industry has had to confront its own labor-related demons.
“It’s not rocket science,” says Dan Lee of the Global Aquaculture Alliance in the article, and he’s 100 percent correct. Fair treatment of workers and basic human rights are largely taken for granted — out of sight, out of mind. But we know the popular saying about assumptions, and it’s not positive.