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'Visit will allay labour fears'

US importers and superstores should have a better understanding of Thailand's labour practices and standards after visiting fishery plants here, particularly shrimp plants, and supply chains, an expert says.

Paiboon Ponsuwanna, former president and honorary adviser of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said Thai seafood exports should not be seriously affected by the US State Department's recent downgrade of Thailand's labour status in its "Trafficking in Persons" (TIP) report because major trading partners are still confident in this countries manufacturing and labour standards.

Recently Costco, a US-based superstore, sent a team to Thailand to inspect fishery supply chains, mostly shrimp plants in Mahachai, to evaluate labour standards. Paiboon said the firm was satisfied with the labour systems in each plant, so the team's visit should result in better understanding of working conditions here.

Paiboon expects that after the Costco team reports back to its homeland, the firm will continue to import Thai products, as will other visitors.

Traders could also launch an advertising campaign so that consumers will not be reluctant to purchase Thai foods, he suggested.

He added that despite the TIP downgrade, most private importers continued to order Thai fishery products because they remained confident in Thai labour standards. Only government agencies have complied with the recommendation of not importing products from countries listed in Tier 3 of the TIP report.

British newspaper The Guardian reported that UK and US supermarket groups visited Thailand this week to create a task force to tackle trafficking and forced labour in the shrimp-feed industry. It said the three-day meeting would be hosted by Charoen Pokphand Foods, the world's largest prawn farmer.

However, CPF has refused to provide details about the foreign supermarkets' mission to Thailand, saying it was a private trip.

The Guardian reported that the British chains Morrisons and Tesco and American's Costco, which buy farmed shrimp from CP Foods, were among the retailers expected to attend the talks with Thai government representatives. Several international catering and food-service firms including Sodexo and Brakes as well as campaigners from Oxfam and the Environmental Justice Foundation would join, the paper said.

The aim of the meeting was to agree on the terms of an industry action group, which would work with CP Foods to establish a global benchmark in sustainable shrimp-feed production, according to the report.


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