Fisheries execs optimistic sector’s problems will be solved
Leading executives in Thailand’s fisheries and seafood industries expressed optimism that their sector would soon become more sustainable and meet international labor and environmental standards because of concerted and comprehensive action on the part of the government and private sector, several executives said last week.
Poj Aramwattana, president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, said that most companies had eliminated illegal labor and labor abuse from their supply chains, and that both the government and private sector are working with civil society groups to crack down on any smaller rogue operators still engaging in these practices. While he could not guarantee 100 percent compliance, he said the situation was clearly improving because of the broad and serious commitment on the part of the major players to cleaning up the sector.
Thailand’s fishery and seafood industry is an import part of the Kingdom’s economy. Seafood exports were valued at $6.4 billion, or about 2.5 percent of total Thai exports in value, in 2014, with 24 percent shipped to the United States and about 12 percent exported to Europe. The frozen food industry employs roughly 300,000 workers.
Both the United States and the European Union will be assessing Thailand’s progress on these issues during the first half of this year. Poj and other industry executives expressed confidence that enough progress has been made – and will continue to be made – for the U.S. and E.U. to avoid sanctioning the sector and its products.
The Ministry of Commerce reported that seafood exports had fallen by about 15 percent during the first 10 months of 2015, but Poj and other executives said this was a result of the weak global economy and an overall slowdown in demand and exports, and fallout from the negative publicity.
In response to revelations that some independent shrimp peeling sheds had been using illegal labor and abusing workers, the TFFA has now implemented a policy to end third-party pre-processing operations from the shrimp supply chains of its members.
All members of the TFFA must now bring shrimp pre-processing operations in-house in order to exercise full control over the work conditions of employees in the extended supply chain.
Somsak Paneetatyasai, president of the Thai Shrimp Association, said the government and private enterprises had been working strenuously over the past year to solve the problem of illegal employment.
He said some small plants in the supply chain, such as peeling sheds, may use forced labor, but once large enterprises or members of the Thai Shrimp Association or the Thai Frozen Foods Association (TFFA) are made aware, those plants were immediately cut from the supply chain.