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Abuse a Mainstay of Asia's Seafood Industry

WORLDWIDE - Workers in Southeast Asia's expanding shrimp industry suffer tremendous abuse and sometimes live virtual slavery, says a report released this week.

Sexual and physical abuse, debt bondage, child labour and dangerous working conditions are common place and western consumers must realise what they are supporting, says the report from human rights campaigner the Solidarity Center.

The organisation describes itself as "an international nonprofit allied organization of the AFL-CIO established to provide assistance to workers around the world."

Workers were reported as saying that if they made a mistake on the shrimp peeling line, asked for sick leave, or tried to escape, they could expect to be beaten, sexually molested, or publicly tortured.

One factory, Ranya Paew, was described as a fortress with armed guards, and an extensive internal closed-circuit television system, says the Solidarity Center. Police that raided the premises found a scene that one report described as 'little short of medieval,' with hundreds of workers literally trapped inside the compound, living in squalid conditions, forced to work long hours, and subjected to physical, emotional, and sexual intimidation and abuse, it alleges.

Degradation

The report, 'The Degradation of Work: The True Cost of Shrimp', also contains information from interviews with workers in Thailand and Bangladesh. The human rights group did not name the workers, as it believed that they could suffer retaliation from employers if their identities were not protected.

It said that in April 2007, workers at a factory owned by a major Thai shrimp processing company spoke with Solidarity Center partners, alleging hazardous working conditions as well as an intimidating and discriminatory work environment. They complained of forced overtime and nonpayment of wages if production quotas were missed. They also claimed regular exposure to harsh chemicals, lack of access to first aid or health care, and poor air and drinking water quality.

They said that they worked without a written contract, and that native Thais and migrant workers were segregated by the use of colorcoded uniforms.

Responding to the report Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said she was "deeply disturbed by the findings. Speaking at a news conference announcing the study she said it was outrageous and unacceptable that people were being treated this way.

Much of the shrimp processed in Thailand is destined for the United States, the report said.

Further Reading

More information - You can view the full report by clicking here.

Ellen Hardy

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