Over 100 seafood companies have agreed to eliminate unacceptable forms of child labour, but human rights experts say the problem, as well as forced labour, has remained a concern.
Poj: The GLP will act as an official auditor
In a recent move to actively address the problem of child labour in the industry, 130 seafood companies yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to adopt good labour practices (GLP) guidelines for primary processing workplaces in the food and shrimp industries.
The cooperation is aimed to help protect workers from unacceptable forms of work such as child labour, forced labour, workplace discrimination and from sub-standard working conditions.
But Labour Rights Promotion Network's (LPN) founder and executive director Sompong Srakaew said the use of forced and child labour is still a concern even though the situation has significantly improved since 2010.
"Despite an intensive crackdown this year and in 2012, it doesn't mean that the problems will disappear. We still have a reason to believe that there might be some businesses that simply do not care or are not members of related associations. These are the ones you can't control," he said.
Companies signing the MoU are regularly audited by other countries, but the GLP should be implemented in other workplaces as well, and inspections by government agencies should be done intensively, he added.
Factories should be aware of how subcontractors recruited workers.
"We have to admit that the problems remain, and not just cover it up like we did before 2010," said Mr Sompong.
Poj Aramwattananont, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said the shrimp industry has come under scrutiny over the past six years.
"The reason why we're adopting the GLP is because in the past the media and NGOs have been pointing fingers at us. The GLP will act as an official auditor," Mr Poj said.
"I do not dare say 100% of the industry is doing right. There might be some that don't know they are doing wrong but the GLP will serve as the guidelines for them," he added.
According to the Fisheries Department, the sector exports around 1 million tonnes per year worth over 200 billion baht and employs over 1 million people. Thailand has been ranked fourth years in a row on the US's Tier 2 Watch List of goods produced by child or forced labour as defined by its Labor Department.
The country risks being downgraded to Tier 3 in the next evaluation, possibly leading to a range of trade sanctions.
Arthit Issamo, director-general of the Labour Protection and Welfare Department, said Thailand will maintain the current status at least until next June and confirmed the country does not use workers less than 15 years old as well as forced labour.
The minimum age for employment under the Labour Protection Act is 15, and Thailand has 20,000 workers aged 15-18, but they are allowed to do only non-hazardous jobs.
According to a recent study supported by the International Labour Organisation, nearly one in six fishermen in commercial fishing vessels in four southern provinces of Thailand have identified themselves as working against their will under a menace of financial penalty or under violence or a threat of violence.
Fishermen who identified themselves as being in forced labour were exclusively migrant workers.
About the author
- Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter