The Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit has funded an investigation into five seafood processing facilities run by one of the largest seafood companies in Thailand. The company supplies Australian businesses such as Coles, ALDI, Nestlé and John West (a brand owned by Simplot in Australia).
One of the facilities investigated was largely compliant with Thai labour law and the migrant workers were generally satisfied with their wages. In three other factories, migrant workers felt they were being exploited. The workers were charged excessive payments for work permits and visas and denied paid sick leave. There were also allegations of forced overtime.
In one investigated canning plant, the workers alleged the factory had confiscated their passports and work permits – a practice that is illegal.
Human Rights Watch has previously found that migrant workers found without their passports or work permits are at greater risk of abuse from Thai authorities such as the police. In some cases the police have robbed migrant workers, or taken them into custody and then demanded a ransom for their release.
Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the JIM unit said the good news is the Thai company and their Australian buyers are taking the findings of the investigation very seriously.
“The Thai company has involved a migrant worker organisation in discussion of the findings. Some of the confiscated documents have already been returned to workers,” Dr Zirnsak said.The company has also promised to ensure that all overtime is voluntary.
Australian buyers have committed to follow up with the Thai company to ensure that it follows through on the corrective actions it has promised. Some of the Australian buyers already subject their suppliers to regular inspections.
Australian companies will ensure their Thai suppliers participate in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Thai Government Good Labour Practice standards program, which ensures compliance with basic human rights.
ALDI has appointed two staff to ensure compliance with their supplier code, which requires suppliers to abide by national labour laws.
Simplot is developing a company-wide policy to ensure it appropriately addresses the risks of human trafficking and forced labour in its supply chain from Thailand.
Dr Zirnsak said the investigation was just one positive step towards ensuring goods bought in Australia were not produced by exploited labour.
In more good news, Dr Zirnsak said the federal government had responded to lobbying from Uniting Church members to address slavery risks in imported goods. A Supply Chains Working Group will be established “to examine ways to address human trafficking and related exploitative practices in supply chains.”
The working group will include representatives from Australian businesses, academics, unions, and non-government organisations including a representative of the VicTas Synod.