WASHINGTON, April 23 Abuse of workers including
children and migrants is rife in the shrimp-processing
industries of key global suppliers Thailand and Bangladesh, a
U.S. labor rights group said on Wednesday.
Solidarity Center, an organization allied with the AFL-CIO
labor federation, called for the industry and governments
throughout the popular seafood's global supply chain to step up
labor law enforcement and tighten safety and health standards.
The center's researchers cataloged abuses in world
shrimp-industry leader Thailand and in fast-rising newcomer
Bangladesh. Thailand exported $1.3 billion worth of shrimp to
the United States in 2006, while Bangladesh exported $200
million to rank ninth on a list of U.S. sources.
"As both countries' shrimp industries have boomed and
become integrated into a massive global shrimp supply chain,
low wages, long hours, and unhealthy, hazardous work form the
unfortunate foundation of work," said the report.
Governments in those two Asian developing countries had
failed to make their shrimp companies comply with laws and
failed to prosecute employers found abusing workers rights,
said the 40-page study.
"Reports of the worst forms of labor exploitation -- child
labor, human trafficking, debt bondage and forced labor -- are
increasingly emerging from the shadows," it said.
In Thailand, workers in shrimp-processing factories earned
about $4.60 a day for a six-day work week and excessive hours.
Child labor and forced labor were often the norm, the
Solidarity Center said.
A striking feature of Thailand's shrimp industry was the
abuse by brokers and smugglers of migrant workers, who often
are sold into debt bondage and see their wages stolen. Most
laborers are refugees from military-run Myanmar, but the work
force also includes Laotians and Cambodians, it said.
Shrimp processing in Bangladesh involved widespread use of
subcontracted workers to replace better-paid full-time workers
and significant amounts of child labor. Laws governing workers
hours and safety conditions are often ignored and promised
overtime wages are often not paid, the report said.
In both countries, factories responding to pressure to hold
prices down "squeeze wages, neglect workplace health and safety
regulations, and cut other corners that leave shrimp workers
bearing the social cost of affordable shrimp," it said.
Thai shrimp were sold under a number of brands in at least
nine big U.S. supermarket chains: Costco, Cub Foods, Giant,
Giant Eagle, Harris Teeter, IGA, Tops Markets, Trader Joe's and
Wal-Mart, the Solidarity Center said.
Guidelines and best practices established by the
Aquaculture Certification Council, an agency of the shrimp
trade association, focus on water quality and food safety and
fail to address labor problems, it said.
"The industry will need to put much more work into the
effort, particularly as governments and international media
continue to uncover reports of human trafficking, persistent
child labor, and sweatshop conditions," the report said.
(Reporting by Paul Eckert, editing by Philip Barbara)