Labor issues improving with increased scrutiny, according to Thai industry rep
Thai seafood producers claim they’re working to meet stricter reporting requirements, which they say are helping to improve labor and food safety problems in the industry.
There has been a rise in reporting requirements due to the U.S. Congress’ Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, according to Panisuan Jamnamwej, chairman of the Committee on Fisheries and Related Industries at the Thai Chamber of Commerce. In addition, the introduction of QR code technology is increasing traceability and curbing abuses in Thailand’s seafood sector, according to Panisuan. Shrimp farmers are being encouraged to adapt the QR codes by being supplied with mobile data connections, he said, and wild-catch fishers are getting better at tracking their takes.
“Importers say you need to provide information such as the details of vessels and catches. Similarly on feed, if your fishmeal was caught at sea, you need the name of the ship, even if only one percent of the material came from that vessel,” Panisuan said.
In the past two years, Thailand’s fishing sector has faced sharp international criticism for its use of indentured Burmese laborers on some of its vessels, as documented by several NGOs. Thai industries have also run into trouble for their import of workers from neighboring Myanmar – the process itself is legal, but private recruiters have at times run afoul of the law. Burmese laborers made up the bulk of staff at several processing plants visited by SeafoodSource in Thailand recently.
A lack of up-to-date data hinders the Thai side from defending its case on labor and illegal fishing, Panisuan said.
“I went to the [Food and Agricultural Organisation] FAO meeting in Spain and the data I had was from 2013,” he said. “It’s very hard to defend [the Thai industry] based on out-of-date data.”
Apart from labor, other challenges facing Thailand are seafood-naming fraud, quality control, and disease control, Panisuan explained. The task of improving quality control remains a daunting one for shrimp producers due to the “very fragmented” nature of the sector, Panisuan said. Inspections of shrimp processing factories have increased sharply, but the problem of residues “can’t be fixed at the factories,” he added. Rather, it must be handled at the individual farm level – a much more difficult task, given there are 150 processing plants and hundreds of thousands of shrimp farmers. Tuna processors have it a bit easier due to their large processing factories, Panisuan said.
Naming fraud is sometimes intentional, and sometimes unintended, according to Panisuan. He points for an example to the red snapper: mislabeling of exports to the U.S. has led to seizures by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Likewise, unscrupulous fishermen have tried to label pangassius as dory, said Panisuan.
“I take this personally, as I import pangasius,” he said. “I campaigned for three years to say this not dory.”