Thai Union, Sea Value refute allegations they employ underage workers

January 25, 2013, 6:56 pm

Thai Union Frozen Products and Sea Value, the world’s number one and two tuna canners, hit back at a report alleging they employ underage workers in their plants.

The report, from Finnwatch, alleges John West, Petit Navire and Chicken of the Sea parent Thai Union and private label processing giant Sea Value, employ 14-17 year old migrant workers in the Thai Union Manufacturing (TUM) processing complex and the Sea Value Unicord 2 plant, both in Samut Sakhon, central Thailand.

In a statement sent to Undercurrent News, Thai Union, which does not appear to deny the allegations in its responses in the Finnwatch report, refutes the allegations.

Sea Value, the owner of the Unicord plant also cited in the report, said it would get back to Undercurrent with a more detailed statement next week.

However, Chanintr Chalisarapong, senior vice president of Sea Value, emailed a brief response to Undercurrent stating the company does not abuse workers or use child labor.

Amornphan Aramwatananont, vice president of the company, promised a fuller statement.

In the Finnwatch report, "Cheap has a high price", it is alleged that migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar are mistreated in the plants and that workers from 14-17 years of age are used.

“Many of the interviewees told that both Thai Union and Unicord 2 [owned by Sea Value] employ 14–17-year-old migrants. They worked in a line where blood vessels and bones were removed from the fish. The interviewees said that the underage workers had false passports claiming that they were over 18 years of age,” the report states.

It then goes on to outline various other abuses of workers, from holding back documentation to not having enough toilets for men working in the plants.

Top executives at Thai Union did not respond to Undercurrent directly, but refuted the allegations, in a statement sent from a PR firm.

Thai Union “would like to reaffirm that TUM is committed to operating with integrity, to sustaining high ethical standards and to upholding the human rights of our workers”, the company said, in the statement.

“We take allegations contrary to this very seriously and believe the report to be inaccurate," it said.

However, the report seems to state that Thai Union did not deny the allegations to Finnwatch, but said: "TUM finds it difficult to intervene as the child workers have official ID cards granted by Myanmar officials with false date of birth. TUM promises to look into possible improvements having heard the results of the investigation".

In the statement, the company claimed: "TUM is in compliance with every aspect of Thai labor laws and has always insisted on official government-issued documentation including national ID photo cards and work permits to confirm that all employees are of legal age".

Thai Union is "rigorous in our recruitment selection process and refute the allegation that under-age workers are employed in our production plant".

“The welfare of all of our employees is paramount and we strive to be the employer of choice within the seafood industry in Thailand.

“TUM does not retain any employee’s passport or work permit and all employees have the right and freedom to leave TUM at any time to work elsewhere.

“We work closely with Thai government agencies and are regularly audited by the Ministry of Labour in Thailand and our multi-national customers.”

A PR firm working for Chicken of the Sea also sent a statement to Undercurrent, in which it stresses “ethical procurement in our entire supply chain – from catch to can”.

“Our supplier code of conduct explicitly prohibits child labor,” the company said.

“Our parent company, Thai Union, will continue to follow Thai laws, thereby hiring individuals documented to be of legal age.”

Chicken of the Sea claimed the “welfare of all employees throughout the organization remains Thai Union's number one priority”, which is “which is why Thai Union works closely with the Thai government to meet and/or exceed Thai laws”.

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