Thai Union, Unicord dispute child labor report
Major global canned tuna players Unicord and Thai Union Manufacturing (TUM) last week disputed the recent allegations of child labor and other labor violations at their Thai canned tuna factories.
“Our code of conduct explicitly prohibits the employment of individuals under legal working age, and we refuse allegations to the contrary,” according to a statement from TUM, the parent company of Chicken of the Sea, John West, Petit Navire, and Mareblu.
The Helsinki-based NGO Finnwatch Association accused TUM and Unicord of a multitude of labor violations after it interviewed employees at canned tuna plants operated by both companies. Unicord manufactures private label canned tuna and frozen seafood, primarily for the U.S. market, and 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. Other unfair labor practices, according to Finnwatch, include low wages, workers without contracts, employee safety problems, lack of health insurance, lack of toilets, and harassment and/or discrimination against workers.
Unicord contends that Finnwatch depended on “speculation and unsubstantiated interviews that were presented as fact for the basis of their report,” according to the Unicord statement. “We take exception that unconfirmed statements by some workers speculating that some of the other workers are using falsified official identification and are actually only 14 to 17 years old, without substantiating this with facts, is poor and misleading reporting.”
In addition, all of its workers are covered by health insurance and when there are delays in workers receiving insurance cards, it is because of the Thai government, according to Unicord.
However, Unicord acknowledged that some labor issues at its Thai factory could be improved. “It appears there has been a delay in the workers receiving a copy of their contracts and this will be looked into and rectified,” Unicord stated.
Since the report was published, TUM conducted a full audit of employees in “questionable” age groups and re-verified that they are of legal age, according to TUM.
“No employees were found to be below legal working age,” TUM stated. In addition, TUM is subject to regular audits by the Thai Ministry of Labor and is subject to “numerous other social responsibility audits from our multi-national customers around the world,” according to the statement. “We have never hired an individual of non-legal working age or been found to be in violation of issues related to child labor.”
TUM’s statement did not address other Finnwatch labor violations.