Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Report on slaves spurs calls for Thai seafood boycott

’FLAGRANT ABUSE’:A report found workers had to peel shrimp in Thailand for up to 16 hours per day for little or no pay, with many locked inside for months or even years

AP, NEW YORK

Thai Union Group president and chief executive officer Thiraphong Chansiri gestures during an interview at his company’s offices in Bangkok yesterday.

Photo: AP

US officials and human rights activists called on Americans to stop buying fish and shrimp tied to supply chains in Thailand, where The Associated Press (AP) has found slaves are forced to work in the seafood industry.

“All of us may find ourselves eating a slave-made product without knowing it, but once we know it, we all have a moral obligation, I believe, to make a personal decision to boycott it,” said US Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican who is a member of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee.

“This isn’t a matter of low pay or crummy working conditions. This isn’t a matter of saving lots of money to choose the product that is made by cutting corners. This is the flagrant abuse of fellow human beings ... Americans won’t stand for that,” US-based watchdog Freedom House president Mark Lagon said.

The AP on Monday reported that it found enslaved workers who were forced to peel shrimp in Thailand for up to 16 hours per day for little or no pay, with many locked inside for months or even years on end.

Journalists followed trucks from an abusive factory raided last month to major Thai distributors and traced similar connections from another factory raided in May.

US customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major US food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Olive Garden.

It also entered the supply chains of some of the US’ best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, which are sold in grocery stores from Safeway and Schnucks to Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons, records show.

AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 US states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to these conditions, with many saying they were launching investigations.

Responding to the reports, Red Lobster, Whole Foods and some others said they have been assured by their supplier, Thai Union, that their particular shrimp were not processed by children and slaves, despite the AP’s findings.

However, Thai Union said it had not known the source of all its shrimp and sent a note outlining corrective measures to US businesses.

“We were concerned that, despite regular audits, it is difficult to guarantee that all external pre-processors were adhering to our code of conduct,” Thai Union chief executive officer Thiraphong Chansiri said in a statement.

The company promised to exclusively use in-house labor starting from Jan. 1.

Earlier this year, after AP reported on a slave island in Indonesia where fishermen were caged when on shore, Greenpeace called for a boycott of Thai Union and its Chicken of the Sea brand in the US.

The Thai embassy in Washington released a statement in response to the reports, saying the government would take action against those found to be involved in illegal activities.

“We are determined to ensure that the country’s seafood supply chain is free of human trafficking and forced labor,” the embassy said.

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