Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to work in Thailand. That doesn’t avert “the employment of children in the industry supply chain, both under and above the legal working age, in hazardous working conditions”, the International Labour Organization (ILO) writes. Many of the children – and workers in general – in the shrimp factories in Thailand are immigrants of the neighbouring countries, especially Burma.
The Labour Protection Network, a Thai NGO which was founded 8 years ago, tries to protect migrant workers and their rights and help victims of violations. Besides, they also try to integrate the children of migrants into local schools. However, often they are not accepted and end up in the factories to support their families. Thousands of children of illegal immigrants are stateless, the so-called “invisible children”. The LPN believes that they start working as early as 4 years old.
The workers are not supposed to leave. Tricks like retention of documents and physical violence are used to keep the workers where they are. Some factories are like prisons: the workers are not even allowed to leave the ground. LPN explains that most immigrants have “crossed the border without documentation and are living in a kind of shadowland. Working in Thai farms and factories, they are at risk of deportation and vulnerable to many kinds of threats and exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous brokers, employers, and sometimes law enforcement as well.”
The director estimates that 400’000 Burmese workers (around 1/3 of the total number of workers) are employed within the shrimp factories. Their pay is far beyond the minimal wage in Thailand (around 6 dollars / day) and often not issued. Trying to get legal papers is expensive and often impossible. But wiithout the papers, the workers cannot do anything about their situation.
Thailand also pays a high price for its shrimp export on another scale: “uncontrolled shrimp farming is considered a major threat to mangroves forests since these lands are converted into ponds. In Thailand about 253,000ha of the country’s 380,000ha of mangrove forests has already been destroyed by shrimp farms.” Also food security is further under thread since many agricultural lands are transformed into shrimp farms. Let’s not mention the pollution.
Now, if you still want to eat shrimp, look out for these certification labels. Personally, after visiting the LPN and a shrimp factory close to Bangkok, I will try even harder to avoid any type of shrimp in my food. Unfortunately, things don’t look better in many other industries, but that is another story.
Picture by She Paused 4 Thoughts, thanks.