A recent Washington Post article on labor abuses in the shrimp industry of Thailand reaffirms the “Hope for All Who Toil” theme of the recent 2012 IAM Grand Lodge Convention in Toronto, Canada.
Activists say the $1 billion-plus industry in Thailand, fueled by Western countries’ love for shrimp, has created a culture of exploitation, child labor, corruption, violence and human trafficking.
“At an age when she should have been in a classroom, Thazin Mon discovered her knack for peeling shrimp,” writes the author. “To help support her Burmese migrant family, the 14-year-old pulled 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, for less than $3 a day. Although she was the best peeler in the factory, speed was never enough. Mon was beaten if she slowed down, she said, and when she asked for a day off to rest hands swollen with infection, her boss kicked her and threatened rape.”
According to the article, the United States is Thailand’s number one customer and accounts for a third of the country’s annual shrimp exports – although it’s difficult to trace exactly which retailers are buying and selling the unethically-processed food. Thai companies are required to become members of the Thai Frozen Foods Association in order to do business overseas, but until the industry requires larger factories to provide records of their lower-level suppliers and follows through with random inspections, the abuses will continue.
“Despite occasional police action and robust anti-trafficking laws, labor activist Sompong Sakaew estimates that fully a quarter of the 1,200 to 1,300 factories in the Samut Sakhon province are unregistered and, therefore, ripe for abuse,” reads the article. “With so much profit-induced apathy on the Thai side, activists say reform pressure must come from Western companies whose trade partnerships drive the shrimp industry. Brisk business with major U.S. retailers such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s Club and Red Lobster pumps more than $1 billion in revenue each year into the Thai economy, the second largest in Southeast Asia.”
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