The dark horizon in Thailand's seafood industry is starting to clear up, which bodes well for the world's third-largest seafood exporter threatened with a "red card" or seafood ban by the European Union.


Will Thailand escape European ban?


The dark horizon in Thailand's seafood industry is starting to clear up, which bodes well for the world's third-largest seafood exporter threatened with a "red card" or seafood ban by the European Union.


In a move to help eliminate human trafficking and "slave labour", members of the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA) announced they would stop buying peeled shrimps from subcontractors starting Jan. 1, 2016, and instead process shrimps in-house, following the lead of leading seafood producer Thai Union Group Plc.


TFFA said processing shrimps in-house would enable members to have full control over the working conditions of employees in the supply chain.


TFFA seems to be serious as it warned that any member found buying shrimps from external shrimp-peeling sheds would be expelled from the association. Moreover, it promised to work help find employment for workers who may lose their jobs as shrimp peelers.


"It is clear that complete transparency and full oversight is required. This is the only way to restore the industry's image and protect it from accusations of slave labour," said TFFA president Poj Aramwattananon, according to Bangkok Post.


'5,000 losing jobs'


But Akhom Krueawan, president of the Samut Sakhon Seafood Processing Club, said the TFFA decision would result in over 5,000 migrant workers in shrimp-peeling sheds losing their jobs, adding shed operators should be given at least six months to prepare for the phase-out. Samut Sakhon province, which is located southwest of Bangkok, is the hub of Thailand's shrimp-processing industry. The Associated Press wrote a story in mid-December on a Samut Sakhon shrimp-peeling shed where it found "enslaved migrant workers and children ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp".


The AP said undocumented migrant laborers, many from neighbouring Myanmar, ended up "being tricked or sold into shrimp-peeling sheds where they are forced to work 16-hour days with no time off and little or no pay for sometimes years at a time".


In a related development, the Global Aquaculture Alliance's (GAA) Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) third-party certification program has taken a stand against child and forced labours in the shrimp supply chain by prohibiting BAP-certified processing plants from outsourcing the processing of shrimp to third-party entities. The prohibition will take effect also on Jan. 1, 2016.


GAA is an international, non-profit organization whose advocacy is responsible and sustainable aquaculture. Its Best Aquaculture Practices facility certification is the world's only third-party aquaculture certification program with seafood processing plant standards.


GAA said its decision to prohibit outsourcing shrimp processing was an offshoot of reports of child labor and forced labor in the shrimp supply chain, specifically in unregistered and unlicensed shrimp-peeling sheds. 


GAA Executive Director Wally Stevens said, "Our experience over many years with farmed shrimp is that most of the peeling and heading of shrimp is conducted at well-run processing facilities, and it is only during infrequent periods of peak supply from farms that outsourcing takes place. The current BAP processing plant standards require facilities that outsource their peeling or heading operations to maintain appropriate controls over the environmental, social and food-safety practices of those outsourced operations. But obviously it would be far better if these processing steps were conducted in-house".


"Accordingly, we will prohibit BAP-certified facilities from outsourcing their peeling and heading operations, effective Jan. 1, 2016", he added.


Taking warning seriously


The EU Fisheries Commission, meanwhile, is expected to decide this month whether to ban seafood products from Thailand. Earlier it said Thailand's progress in "delivering on the actions" it was asked to take in April was being assessed.


The TFFA is taking the warning seriously as it rejected on Dec. 29 the appeal of shrimp-peeling shed owners to review its decision to stop buying processed shrimps from them.


TFFA president Poj told a meeting of the shed owners that his association stood by its decision, according to Bangkok Post.


He said that if it does not take EU's warning seriously, a ban is likely.


Besides, he added, Thailand would remain on the lowest tier in the next US Trafficking in Persons report. —Rick Alberto

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