Thailand Addresses Shrimp Industry Worker Abuses

The Royal Thai government on Tuesday stressed its decade-long effort to eliminate forced labor and human trafficking as it addressed allegations of abuse at shrimp processing facilities in Thailand.

"We take any allegations of abuse very seriously," says Minister Kessiri Siripakorn, who heads the Royal Thai Embassy's Office of Commercial Affairs. "We want U.S. government leaders and the American people to know that we are making a concerted and proactive effort to prevent abuses and combat incidents swiftly whenever they may occur."

Kessiri adds Thailand has aggressively pursued migrant workers' rights since passage of the Labor Protection Act in 1998 and will strengthen its efforts with the recently passed Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2008.

Bangladeshi, Thai and U.S. officials have disputed the findings of a Solidarity Center report documenting extensive labor abuse in Southeast Asia's shrimp industry. Released in late April, "The True Cost of Shrimp" claims shrimp-processing plant workers, including children, are beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and underpaid.

The Solidarity Center has since refused to divulge company names whose workers are allegedly abused, fearing retribution to the workers and labor advocates in the field.

According to Thailand's Office of Commercial Affairs, there are approximately 700,000 workers in the Thai shrimp industry, including farmers, middlemen and workers in 1,415 processing factories. Shrimp is one of Thailand's most important exports, with significant sales to the United States, Japan, Europe, Canada, Australia, South Korea and other markets. Thailand is by far the leading supplier of shrimp to the United States, exporting 77.1 million pounds through March.

Political, economic and natural disaster-related difficulties in neighboring countries like Myanmar have created an influx of migrants to Thailand. About 540,000 migrant workers are registered to work in Thailand; there may be as many as a million more undocumented workers.

The Royal Thai Embassy's Office of Commercial Affairs is primarily responsible for trade matters including policies and promotion at both the multilateral and bilateral levels with an aim of fostering trade between North America and Thailand.


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