Mid last week I returned home from a trip to Thailand and Myanmar to start work on the Labor-Safe Screen. It’s a B2B program offering risk support to ensure social compliance in seafood through better supply management.
Users of the Labor-Safe Screen will plug in basic product information. The screen finds hotspots in supply chains for unseen poor labour practice by generating a risk assessment for the supplies for that product. The results include a map of hotspots in the chain handling the supplies from export all the way back to fishing boats and grounds. This is knowledge companies don’t have now. The Labor-Safe Screen will also generate advice on what to do. That has value.
The Labor-Safe Screen will help seafood companies to improve internal auditing and planning to insure products are labor-safe. It is meant for internal use privately by importing and exporting companies. However it can also plug into other applications that are bigger than one company like a no-slavery warranty and third party certification for seafood. The social conditions around fishing are extreme in some areas and will need wider industry support to resolve.
It is equally important for the seafood industry to show good labor practices in supply chains. Companies can use the Labor-Safe Screen to track improvements for extending good practices industry-wide.
The Labor-Safe Screen will be prototyped in Summer/Fall 2014 for general use in the global seafood industry.
In the pilot the Labor-Safe Screen will be tested for export products from Thai seafood supply chains. That is not because Thailand has a different culture of work around seafood it’s almost the opposite. The key factor in combating unseen poor labor practices in Thai seafood is the vulnerability of migrant labor to exploitation. With nearly full employment in Thailand the seafood industry relies heavily on foreign labor. Much of the workers are undocumented and lack ID. They need ID. Government-to-government programs in the region are trying to resolve this but thwarted by the sheer numbers of people already working on boats and onshore without legal status in Thailand. The overexploitation of labor in forced and trafficked conditions has gotten carried away. The Thai government and leading export seafood companies are trying to constrain it but cannot. Human trafficking experts in the Greater Mekong Region say there is extreme risk in Thai seafood supply chains and that trafficking is prevalent. No-one has yet traced the risks in seafood supply chains back to fishing vessels and grounds. Verification is yet another issue and has not been done at any level. This combination of factors has created widespread risk. Thai seafood is a good place to test out a self-regulation solution for companies.
The Sustainability Incubator is working with an initial estimate of about 200,000 undocumented Burmese workers on 60,000 Thai vessels. There are also Cambodians and Laotians working on Thai boats. The proportions in 2013 are thought to be around 90% Burmese/10% Cambodian or Laotian both at-sea and onshore in processing. The onshore number appears to be around one million undocumented foreign workers. (Large error bars for now!)
Getting workers official ID, among many other things, is something that the seafood industry can contribute to for more safety for everyone.
This is a major Clean Up on Aisle 3. Super scary for sure to learn what the social conditions are at the extreme end where rogue brokers are careless about overexploitation. But that’s the only way to locate unseen poor labor practices in supply chains and to clean them up.
The potential impacts are enormously positive for people and good for supply management too.
Please contact Katrina at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about participating in the pilot.