Finnwatch report leads to audits, training
After finding migrant worker issues in Thai canned tuna factories, the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) is holding workshops in the country this year.
The Brussels-based BSCI (www.bsci-intl.org), which provides audits and training for its global supply chain customers, is stepping up its training in the country after the NGO Finnwatch Association found numerous unfair labor practices at Thai Union Manufacturing, the parent company of Chicken of the Sea, John West and other canned tuna brands, and Unicord, which manufactures private label and frozen seafood for global retailers.
After Finnwatch interviewed workers at TUM and Unicord plants in Thailand, the organization uncovered issues with child labor, low wages, safety problems, lack of health insurance and harassment and discrimination of workers. TUM and Unicord have both denied the allegations of child labor and most of the other labor issues, but are working with Finnwatch and BSCI to improve communication with employees at the plants.
While BSCI’s audits of Thai Union Manufacturing and Unicord have not found evidence of child labor, there are some issues with low wages and excessive working hours at Thai factories in general, according to Veronica Rubio, food manager for BSCI. “Finnwatch corroborated some of the findings of BSCI, but not all. Worker hours is a problem, and that is the case with most of the countries we work with,” Rubio said.
The Finnwatch report spurred BSCI to organize a workshop in Thailand in March for stakeholders to discuss management systems. BSCI audits and trains 39 companies — primarily seafood manufacturers — in Thailand. In addition, it will hold a roundtable in the country in June to “make practical changes” in Thai factories’ handling of employees, Rubio said. “It is not effective to just have a roundtable. If there is not a continuous follow-up, then nothing happens, so we really want to come up with a long-term plan,” Rubio said. Trade unions, seafood manufacturers, local and international NGOs, and other interested parties will be included in the roundtable.
While there are improvements to be made in Thai canned seafood factories, BSCI has found significant improvements at TUM and Unicord since it began auditing the two manufacturers in 2008. “They have done a lot of improvement in health and safety and management systems. Once you can improve the health and safety of workers, the other parts will start developing,” Rubio said.
TUM and Unicord provide regular training for their Thai factory workers on safety, Rubio added. “As superfluous as it sounds, it is very important and makes a difference. They are going in the right direction,” she said.