Shrimp Industry Labor Abuses Under International Probe
U.S. and international labor associations yesterday began a 12-day investigation of working conditions at Thai shrimp farms and processing plants in response to abuse allegations made by the Washington, D.C.-based Solidarity Center.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Custom Enforcement office, the International Labor Organization and several non-governmental organizations will visit shrimp processing plants in Samut Sakhon, Samut Prakan and Rayong.
Their findings will be released shortly thereafter, and, according to a report in the Bangkok Post, shrimp exports to the United States will be slowed until the conclusions are released. Delays have already caused a price slump, the newspaper reports.
Meanwhile, the Solidarity Center, which is backed by the AFL-CIO, steadfastly refuses to name the shrimp facilities that allegedly abused their workers. In its April report, "The True Cost of Shrimp," the Solidarity Center detailed how shrimp-processing plant workers in Thailand and Bangladesh are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and underpaid; some are children. The group says the majority of workers at Thai facilities are Burmese migrants who escaped political repression or extreme poverty.
"Any meeting between industry and worker rights representatives would require an understanding between the parties that we would not release information that could be used to blacklist workers or shut down plants," wrote Ellie Larson, executive director of the Solidarity Center, in a May 30 letter to John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute in McLean, Va.
Connelly recently returned from Thailand, where he investigated the mistreatment claims. He met with the Thai Frozen Food Association, the Thai Shrimp Association and officials from the Thai department of labor.
Also, according to NFI, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday will release its Trafficking in Persons report, which is likely to mention labor issues related to Thailand and Bangladesh and may even directly mention shrimp. NFI intends to submit written testimony on the shrimp labor issues to the U.S. Labor Department prior to a June 11 deadline.
Shrimp imports from Thailand, by far the United States' No. 1 shrimp supplier, were down 11.9 percent through March, to 77.1 million pounds.