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Controversy In Sweden Over Thai Tuna Workers Condition

Atuna.com published an article on Feb 5th 2009 from the Swedish magazine Råd & Rön about a recent update on an initial report made in 2007 by Henrik Lindholm, from Fair Trade. The 2007 report highlighted the bad working conditions in Thai tuna canneries – the major supplier for Sweden – including physical violence, the update verified if any improvements were made in the last 18 months.

The article roused the reaction of Mark Berman, Associate Director of Earth Island Institute’s (EII) International Dolphin Safe Program.

According to him, the allegations made in the magazine cannot possibly be true, since he has been inspecting tuna canneries in Thailand – several times unannounced – and has never seen workers mistreated and under bad conditions:

“My observations are that the employees get proper breaks, work in a clean environment, often air conditioned, and are provided meals. (…)The company mentioned is part of Thai Union group, and I have only witnessed as a third party good treatment of the employees.  I think the Råd & Rön  publication needs to re-visit the issue and give a more balanced report”.

Mr. Berman refers to the allegations about Thai Union Frozen Products, said to be the “very worst factory” according to the 2007 report from Fair Trade. Even though the Swedish magazine states that some improvements were done in the factory since 2007, Råd & Rön doesn’t have the impression that conditions are very different today.

Atuna.com got in touch with the author of the report, Henrik Lindholm, who spent 6 months in Thailand for the research. He explained that the findings were about three tuna canneries only, all suppliers to supermarkets and importers in Sweden.

Mr. Lindholm affirmed that he has never seen any abuse from the canneries himself either, but that sporadic inspections won’t show the real treatment and conditions the workers have to abide due to the very strict health requirements to those factories, they are usually very clean.

In addition, he said that issues such as physical and moral arrestment are known to require a deeper analysis. His conclusions were based on group and individual interviews with Burmese immigrants: “I still have the papers written by them with the answers”.

However, Mr. Lindholm clarifies that not all the three canneries presented the problem: “That’s why I rely on their answers, because some workers would just say ‘no, we have no problems at all’, but a lot of people from the same factory told me the same story”. The factory he refers to is Thai Union Frozen Products.

“In the group interview was the first time that I heard about physical arrestment, which really surprised me. They told me a history about a girl who got beaten up, so I asked to see the girl. She came to me and told me an identical history; therefore I don’t have any reasons to believe they were lying”, he finalizes.

Mr. Berman firmly believes that those allegations are not only false but “it is an insult to the Thai industry that provides thousands of jobs throughout the country”.