Today, the Southern Shrimp Alliance formally filed a report entitled “Know Your Supplier: Labor Abuses in Bangladesh’s Farmed-Shrimp Industry” with the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Subcommittee of the Trade Policy Staff Committee (TPSC). The submission, filed through the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), responds to the announcement that the TPSC is currently reviewing Bangladesh’s eligibility for GSP benefit.
The report identifies and examines current labor practices in Bangladesh’s shrimp industry. Through reference to the investigations and findings of various non-governmental organizations (NGO) and journalists, the paper additionally describes how Bangladesh’s export-oriented shrimp industry still fails to meet internationally recognized worker rights essential to qualify for the GSP program.
Various investigations have continued to find the industry characterized by violence and harassment of unprotected workers, child labor, forced labor, and constricted freedom of association. Furthermore, the industry is shrouded in a coordinated culture of prohibiting outsiders, such as journalists or internationals NGO investigators, from access to shrimp industry facilities. Academic and media organizations that have reported on the shrimp industry in Bangladesh say atrocious working conditions, that do not meet international standards, exist along the supply chain in Bangladesh from shrimp fry harvesting to processing shrimp for export.
Bangladesh’s written labor code includes laws that protect the rights of workers. These laws provide for daily and weekly working hours, the right to an identity card to join a union, minimum wage, and prohibit child labor. However, there remains a large chasm between what is on written paper and labor conditions in country. The U.S. Department of Labor, for example, has reported that there are “limited” legal protections and “weak” tools to enforce regulations against child labor.
Bangladesh’s shrimp exports to the U.S. market have fallen dramatically over the last decade as seafood distributors have turned to other foreign suppliers. In 2006, at its high-water market, Bangladesh was the ninth largest supplier of shrimp to the U.S. market. Last year in 2012, shrimp imports from Bangladesh fell to just fourteen (14) percent of the 2006 total. The downward trend continues in 2013, as Bangladeshi shrimp imports in January were forty-three (43) percent lower than they were in January of 2012.
“The failure to meaningfully reform or improve labor conditions in the Bangladeshi shrimp industry has led Americans to turn away from these imports. By continuing to tolerate terrible abuse, Bangladesh has hurt itself in the world market,” said John Williams, Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “But the market reaction to shrimp exports alone has not been sufficient to bring change. Continued, unfettered access to GSP program benefits removes one of the strongest incentives for Bangladesh to protect the rights and welfare of its shrimp industry workers.”
Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s report Know Your Supplier: Labor Abuses in Bangladesh’s Farmed-Shrimp Industry here: http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/SSA-BG-worker-rights-paper1.pdf