Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Slavery Issue of Thai Shrimp

"Ethical businesses ... will be undercut by unethical businesses. It's the curse of all volunteeristic approaches to this [unless governments regulate and enforce stricter regulations]."
Aidan McQuade, director, Anti-Slavery International

Thai 'trash fish' workers unload the catch at Songkhla port.
Thai 'trash fish' workers unload the catch at Songkhla port. Chris Kelly/Guardian 
"One day I was stopped by the police and asked if I had a work permit. They wanted a 10,000 baht ($250) bribe to release me. I didn't have it, and I didn't know anyone else who would, so they took me to a secluded area, handed me over to a broker, and sent me to work on a trawler."
Ei Ei Lwin, 29, a Burmese migrant detained on the docks at Songkhla port

The British newspaper the Guardian has published the results of a months-long investigation. Their conclusion: about 500,000 people are working in Thailand as slaves, many of them on shipping boats employed catching the fish that produces fish meal that feeds mostly shrimp. That half-million enslaved workers is part of the estimated 30 million other poor and vulnerable people who have been caught up in corporate interests that blink at slave labour.

The world can now boast more slaves forced to work against their will presently than at any other time in history. This, at a time when we complacently prefer to believe that slavery of any kind is a scourge that has long passed into history. Slavery, needless to say, is internationally outlawed. It was, in any event, only backward countries of antiquity and more modern countries of racist inclination who practised what we now feel is the immoral shackling of human beings to someone's will.

Not only are slaves employed in hard, back-breaking, never-ending labour on fishing boats and agricultural lands, mines, factories, but regarded as less than human they have few human rights, and are often savagely beaten. There are other slaves as well, women from Asia, Africa and eastern Europe who are trafficked throughout the world, including North America, as prostitutes who rarely see the profitable results of their labour.

Despite the dread that the world itself conjures up of inhumane conditions and misery incarnate, we are all somehow complicit, it would appear. While Western democracies would have nothing to do with such inhuman practises as owning another human being and working that individual to death, we are all involved. Our governments, though aware that slavery is rampant, do little to battle it through the enactment of laws with teeth to outlaw the practise.

So we eat food, wear clothing, and walk on rugs that have been produced by slave labour; indentured children, families living on the edge of existence, reliant on labour that barely earns them food and shelter. CP Foods is a multinational which the Guardian centred its attention on, where slave boats are involved in the products that they market and sell.

This issue is one that merits governments tackling -- from poor rule of law, human development, economic development and access to credit. And to criminalize slavery in a manner that the unscrupulous cannot undermine. So that supply chains are closely examined, existing laws are enforced, investigations take place, and companies that support slavery in their supply chains are boycotted.

CP Foods, when probed for information refused to confirm whether its shrimp are sold in Canada. Walmart refused to confirm whether it sells Thai shrimp, and Costco was fairly shy about responding to queries about its shrimp, but evidently it comes from Thailand.

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