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BSCI: Tuna Worker Hours A Problem In Most Countries

The Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) says tuna factory workers face excessive work hours in Thailand, but recognizes the problem is common in most of the countries it assists. The group is organizing two workshops in Thailand later this year for stakeholders to discuss management systems and to improve Thai factories’ treatment of employees.

The workshops, to be held in March and June, come after the non-profit research group Finnwatch accused two Thai canneries of labour rights violations, including child labour, low wages, safety issues and worker discrimination. The Finnish group released a report in January, based on interviews with factory staff from both Thai Union, the parent company of Chicken of the Sea in the US and John West in the UK, and Unicord, which produces private label and frozen seafood for global retailers.

Based in Brussels, BSCI says its audits of Thlai Union and Unicord have not found evidence of child labour, but it has identified concerns with low wages and excessive working hours at Thai factories in general. The group works to improve working conditions in the global supply chain by providing audits and training. In Thailand, it works with about 40 companies and they are mostly seafood manufacturers.
The common problem of “excessive work hours” in Thailand and other countries stems from the fact that the BSCI Code of Conduct, which is a guideline and not a legal standard, allows a maximum number of working hours that in some countries is lower than the national law, says an industry auditor not affiliated with BSCI.
BSCI does not permit working hours to exceed 60 hours per week, which includes 12 hours overtime.
The industry source, who has visited Thai Union to evaluate its facilities and procedures, says the working hours there are “on a human level and according to Thai law.” In Thailand, the maximum number of regular work hours is eight per day or 48 per week. The maximum number of overtime hours is capped at 36 per week, which means workers are legally allowed to work 84 hours total each week.
Similar cases exist in Vietnam, Ecuador and the Philippines, and often the workers want to work long hours for the extra pay, says the source.
With regards to the other reported labour violations, he says Thai Union “completely” fulfills and complies with international social and labour rights standards.
“From the unloading reception to the loading of the container, I didn’t see or find any child working. I am very confident that they don’t hire illegal or child workers…they have procedures in place with ID and immigration control,” says the source.
“I didn’t find any discrimination or forced labour. The facilities were safe and everything was working smoothly.”
He adds the company offers more benefits than are required by law, such as access to a gym and a doctor on site.
“I suggest retailers to not be misinformed by this third party Finnwatch, but to go there and conduct the audits themselves.”                                                                                                                                   
Both Thai Union and Unicord denied the Finnwatch allegations in statements issued last week.