New report spotlights child labor in seafood processing


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
September 15, 2015

A new report from a nonprofit NGO based in Asia has uncovered more unpleasant labor conditions in the Thai seafood industry, this time on the processing end of the supply chain.

The report, produced by the Asia Foundation together with the International Labor Organization (ILO), studies migrant and child labor in the seafood processing industry. The report alleges the industry employs children under the age of 18, and that the children do not go to school. The report also alleges unfair working conditions, such as longer hours.

“Child labor is truly unacceptable in the 21st century,” said Maurizio Bussi, officer-in-charge of the ILO’s country office for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. “Unfortunately, it remains a symptom of existing labor market governance challenges, coupled with a lack of genuine alternatives for vulnerable workers and their families to freely avail of.”

The report acknowledged the severity of the situation varies from producers of one kind of seafood to another, but one thing that appeared consistent was that migrant children worked longer hours than Thai children, and were more likely to be underage.

Kim McQuay, The Asia Foundation’s country representative for Thailand, said children, particularly migrant children, need to know more about what their rights are under Thai law.

“For migrant children, and particularly those that are undocumented, physical security, awareness and enforcement of legal rights and protections under Thai labor law, and access to legally guaranteed education entitlements, must shift from aspiration to reality,” McQuay said.

Along with drawing attention to the problem, the ILO and the Asia Foundation made the following recommendations:

  • The Thai government’s commitment to provide equal treatment with regard to labor protection under the Labor Protection Act (1998), regardless of nationality and legal status, should be widely disseminated.
  • The establishment of a regional mechanism for improved regional value chain management in the shrimp and seafood sector — comprising government, the private sector (including producers and domestic and international buyers), international organizations, and NGOs — would provide a platform for best practices in management and improved labor conditions across the value chain.
  • International buyers should be more vigilant and engage more directly with their suppliers to help them implement international standards, including for labor.
  • To support better integration of migrant students into formal Thai schools, school administrators should transition migrant children into classrooms with Thai children who are close to their own age, rather than requiring migrant children to begin in first grade, regardless of age.
  • Establish school-based vocational training programs for children aged 13-14 as a strong incentive for parents to keep their children in school and to enhance the employment opportunities available at the working age of 15.

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