Thailand's shrimp woes persist
By Rick Alberto



Thailand's aquaculture industry continues to be under the glare of the public eye. Just as it is recovering from the early mortality syndrome (EMS) that has plagued the country's shrimp farms, news broke out early this month that "enslaved migrant workers and children" had been found to be "ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp" in Thai processing factories.


The Associated Press (AP) made an astonishing sleuthing tracking down the freshly peeled shrimp making its way to major Thai exporters and then to hundreds of US food stores and restaurants including Wal-Mart supermarkets and Red Lobster restaurant chain.


Thailand, one of the world's largest seafood exporters, has been constantly in the news for human trafficking in its seafood industry and every time authorities have promised to eliminate abuses, but AP reported that arrests and prosecutions remain rare.


"Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world's biggest shrimp providers", the AP report said, adding that despite "repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country's $7 billion seafood export industry, abuses persist".




The president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, Poj Aramwattananont, however, told The Nation newspaper that shrimp plants in Samut Sakhon province no longer employed children or illegal foreign workers.


Reacting to the AP report, Poj claimed that seafood suppliers in Thailand were now better managed and no longer used illegal or forced labour.


Some companies on their own seem to be doing something in upgrading their operations toward the well-being of their workers. Thai Union Group Plc, for one, has announced that starting Jan. 1 next year it would do away with employing external pre-processors, with shrimp processing operations to be done in-house (see Industry News).


It said the move would provide the company full oversight of all processing stages and ensure that all workers, whether migrant or Thai, are treated fairly.


But Thailand better do more to remove its "slave labour" image. The European Union, which has placed Thailand on a "yellow card" warning and tripled seafood import tariffs, may eventually ban its seafood products by next month.

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