Suddenly Silent Solidarity Center Needs to Speak Up

By

Steven Hedlund

Published on
May 12, 2008

The Solidarity Center has been in hiding since releasing a 40-page report documenting extensive labor abuse within Southeast Asia's farmed-shrimp industry, giving it a black eye. For the report, the Washington, D.C., human rights organization interviewed workers at 15 shrimp-processing facilities in Thailand and 10 in Bangladesh. But only one of the plants cited in the report was identified. The Solidarity Center threw punches - now it's time to name names.

The report identified only one shrimp-processing facility, Ranya Paew, in Thailand's Samut Sakhon province, where more than 40 percent of the country's shrimp is processed. But the plant had already been publicly exposed for abusing workers, raided by Thai authorities in September 2006.

Instead, the report identified the U.S. importers and retailers - including Costco, Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart - that source shrimp from the accused plants.

Ellie Larson, executive director of the Solidarity Center, has not replied to an interview request from SeaFood Business. But late last week, the Solidarity Center posted on its Web site an "interview" it conducted with Larson, which is akin to a journalist answering his or her own questions (that'd make my job a lot easier).

When asked why the Solidarity Center is not responding to demands that it provide details or apologize to Thailand and Bangladesh, Larson says, "The findings in 'The True Cost of Shrimp' speak for themselves."

Officials in Thailand and Bangladesh were quick to defend their countries' labor records. In a column in SeaFood Business' upcoming June issue, Mahmudul Karim, executive director of the Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation, says the U.S. Trade Representative, after meeting with the BSFF and Bangladesh Department of Fisheries in mid-April, "expressed its satisfaction" with the country's efforts to strengthen awareness of and compliance with its labor laws to the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington, D.C.

In a letter to U.S. Ambassador Eric John late last week, Somsak Paneetatyasai, president of the Thai Shrimp Association, also defended Thailand's efforts to enforce its labor laws.

If the Solidarity Center's allegations of worker abuse are true, then U.S. shrimp importers and retailers need to work with shrimp processes and officials in Thailand and Bangladesh to ensure the violators make improvements or are shut down for good. It would help if the suddenly silent Solidarity Center pointed them in the right direction.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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