Products on U.S. grocery shelves, such as frozen shrimp and canned tuna, have been linked to labor trafficking and child labor.
Thousands of migrant workers cross the border into Thailand each year from neighboring countries, with the greatest numbers coming from Burma. An estimated 1.8 million to three million migrant workers live in Thailand, many of them unregistered. These workers are employed in labor-intensive export industries such as seafood, garment manufacturing and agriculture.
Labor registration is complex and leaves migrant workers dependent on recruiters and employers. Indicators of human trafficking are common, including document confiscation, restrictions on free movement, debt bondage, wage theft and excessive recruitment fees. Local police often overlook abuse, and have even been implicated in trafficking schemes. Discriminatory labor law prevent migrant workers from forming labor unions.
The seafood industry, in particular, has had serious concerns with labor trafficking, child labor, and debt bondage, among other abuses. The Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that up to two million people are employed in the seafood industry in Thailand, and 90% are migrant workers, but only a third of them are legally registered. In a recent report by the U.N. Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking, 57% of migrant workers surveyed had at least one indicator of forced labor and 33% were trafficked into forced labor.
ILRF’s research into shrimp production in Thailand has uncovered a range of serious labor problems in Global Aquaculture Alliance certified shrimp processing facilities supplying major western retailers, including utilizing underage workers, nonpayment of wages and charging workers excessive fees for work permits. Finnwatch, a Finnish NGO, has documented similar conditions at processing plants for two of Thailand’s largest tuna exporting firms: Thai Union Manufacturing and Unicord. Using that research, ILRF was able to connect tuna from these two processors to each of the three biggest suppliers of canned tuna in the United States (Bumble Bee, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea). These significant contributions add to the growing evidence of systematic abuse of migrant workers in every step of the supply chain in Thailand’s seafood industry.