Finnwatch alleges child labor at Thai tuna supplier

Published on
January 24, 2013

Chicken of the Sea and other global private label and branded canned tuna lines are the target of a recent investigation involving child labor and other violations at tuna factories in Thailand.

The new report from the Helsinki-based NGO Finnwatch Association details the organization’s investigation into labor practices at canned tuna plants operated by Thai Union Manufacturing, the parent company of Chicken of the Sea, John West, Petit Navire, and Mareblu. Finnwatch also found labor violations at Unicord, which manufactures private label canned tuna and frozen seafood, primarily for the U.S. market. Unicord also has significant exports to Europe, Canada, the Middle East, Japan and South Africa.

“The most important violations are exploiting migrant workers and the use of child labor,” said Henri Purje, research coordinator for Finnwatch. After interviewing numerous workers at Thai Union and Unicord’s plants in Thailand, Finnwatch found that the factories employ 14 to 17-year-old migrants, who reportedly had false passports.

Other violations at the factories include low wages, employee safety problems, lack of health insurance, lack of toilets, and harassment/ discrimination against workers. At Unicord, Finnwatch found that workers have to pay for their work equipment, are bullied by supervisors, and have poor health insurance.

While Thai Union and Unicord have not issued public statements about the report, executives with the two firms have stated that the claims in the report are not true, according to Purje.

However, major Finnish supermarkets that sell Unicord’s private label products have acknowledged that plant conditions need to be improved. “There is a lot to improve in the responsibility of long supply chains,” according to a statement from SOK, which also said that the grievances in the report “will not be swept under the carpet.”

In addition, Kesko Food has started “investigating the matter with its suppliers to report outbreaks of grievances,” according to a statement from the retailer. Both chains said that the key to preventing these problems in the future is to have their suppliers audited through the Business Social Compliance Imitative (BSCI) process. BSCI supports companies that want to build an ethical supply chain “by providing them with a step-by-step development-oriented system, applicable to all sectors and all sourcing countries,” according to a statement from the organization.

“Concerned BSCI participants have been aware that these two producers of tuna were assessed as ‘non-compliant’ in BSCI audits, notably with regard to working hours and overtime, compensation and health and safety,” according to a statement from BSCI.

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