Thai poultry producers accused of labor abuses

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BANGKOK (AP) — Poultry exported to Europe from factories in Thailand is sometimes prepared in conditions that violate labor rights, two Scandinavian groups promoting corporate responsibility charged Thursday. The claim comes as Thailand's seafood industry is reeling from charges that its products are tainted by major labor abuses, including slavery on fishing boats.

The groups Finnwatch and Swedwatch said in a report released in Thailand that they found abuses at six factories that process broiler meat, including exorbitant recruitment fees, illegal confiscation of personal documentation and forced labor.

Earlier this week, the food conglomerate Nestle SA announced it has found that impoverished migrant workers in Thailand are sold or lured by false promises and forced to catch and process fish that ends up in its supply chain.

Nestle's announcement followed reports from news outlets and nongovernmental organizations that tied brutal and largely unregulated working conditions to the company's shrimp, prawns and Purina brand pet foods. Nestle's findings echo those of The Associated Press in reports this year on slavery in the seafood industry that have resulted in the rescue of more than 2,000 fishermen.

The report by Finnwatch and Swedwatch explores the employment conditions of migrant workers in Thailand's poultry industry.

"Migrant workers hired by companies exporting to the EU and other markets are often exposed to repeated violations of human and labor rights by employers and subcontractors as well as corrupt officials," the report said. "Many of them become victims of debt bondage" due to excessive recruitment fees they were often forced to pay, it said.

Other abuses include a lack of health insurance despite having fees for it deducted from their salaries, the confiscation of passports and work permits to tie workers to their workplace, and the use of child labor.

CP Foods Public Co. Ltd., two of whose factories received a mostly favorable evaluation in the report, issued a pre-emptive response earlier this month.

Senior Vice President Suchart Sitthichai, manager of the company's chicken processing plant in the northeast province of Nakhon Ratchasima, said in a statement that the company respects its migrant workers and "condemns all exploitation, forms of child labor, forced labor and human trafficking."

He said the company has been found to meet Thailand's highest labor standards, reflecting "our spirit to treat all workers under our roof on a fair, nondiscriminatory standard that meets international labor practices."

CP Foods is part of the CP Group, which is one of Asia's biggest agribusiness-based conglomerates. The other companies that were researched — Laemthong Poultry Co.; the Saha Farms Group, operating as Golden Line Business Co. Ltd.; and the Centaco Group, operating as Sky Food Co. Ltd. — asserted in published replies to questions from the researchers that they operated responsibly.