June 30, 2014 00:00 By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
Fishery groups vow to eliminate child and forced labour within two years
MEMBERS of the Thai Fishery Producers Coalition made a joint commitment in April to completely eliminate child and forced labour from their ‘upstream’ supply chains to ‘downstream’ manufacturers within two years.
That was before the US downgraded Thailand to the lowest level of Tier 3 in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons report (TIP) released on 10 days ago.
Poj Aramwattananont, chairman of the Thai Fishery Producers Coalition, which represents eight fishery associations, said Thai producers had sought to tackle forced and children labour since 2006. The industry had cooperated with government agencies and other countries to try to solve the problem but had yet to completely resolve them as the industry involves more than 40,000 boats, including some operating under foreign flags.
Thailand should be upgraded in the TIP report soon, he claimed, as the industry has made serious efforts to eliminate forced and child labour for many years.
All coalition members has vowed to rid child and forced labour from their facilities and pre-production process by September. In one year, they will draw up a plan to provide better facilities for workers, such as accommodation. In 2 years, they will commit to eliminate child and forced labour in their supply chain.
Any member that fails to fulfil the commitment would see membership terminated, which means it would be unable to export its products.
Code of ethical conduct
Those in the shrimp industry say they comply with Thai laws on child and forced labour and human trafficking. Members say they maintain an ethical standard expected of responsible business operators by fully abiding with all present and future labour laws, treating all workers fairly and without discrimination against sex, race or national origin, and providing a safe working environment and adequate support facilities.
Members also denounced abusive, exploitative use of workers.
A final draft of a code of ethical practices to be ratified by members will be mutually recognised by trade partners such as the National Fish Institute of America.
The Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA), which groups 194 producers and 60 pre-processors, is one of the major members of the coalition.
It has continued to eliminate child labour and the trafficking of alien workers. It has joined with the Fisheries Department to raise the standard of pre-processing plants handling marine products.
Members have also collaborated with human rights NGOs such as the Labour Protection Network, Migrant Worker Rights Network, Rak Thai Foundation and Annalai to improve and promote the quality of life and welfare of workers and their children who form part of the industry.
TFFA and each of its members have also jointly and separately organised corporate social responsibility activities for their local and migrant workers and their families, such as providing scholarships and hiring teachers to educate their children.
To raise the bar on labour protection, TFFA collaborates with the International Labour Organisation, Fisheries Department and Department of Labour Protection and Welfare to map plant locations, record each manufacture’s profile and conduct a baseline survey of members’ facilities and their pre-processors.
TFFA has set up a hotline for workers to contact in case of emergency or unfair treatment by employers. The operator of this hotline – the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation – can respond to local and Myanmar callers.
The association has also worked with the Myanmar and Cambodian governments to maintain the living conditions of their nationals working in Thailand, he added.