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A company in Thailand that supplies Walmart with shrimp is being protested for labor abuses and a working environment that is, in effect, little better than slavery. The company, Phatthana Seafood, is part of the PTN Group, and is distributed by Rubicon, which in turn supplies Walmart with shrimp. In addition to the fact that the shrimp they produce is substandard and loaded with antibiotics, and raised in environmentally damaging ways, workers at a Thai factory have been protesting their working conditions. Making Change at Walmart, a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers, has also taken up the cause.
Not only is Phatthana being accused of skimping on the pay they’ve promised to workers (and keeping a percentage of it against the debt workers incur to travel to the factory — a practice described in the human rights community as “debt bondage”), but they’ve also reportedly been keeping the workers’ passports and releasing them only for a (steep) fee.
Meanwhile, around 300 of the migrant workers at the shrimp factory must rely on a donated rations from an NGO because they can’t currently afford to eat. As organizer Sok Sorng told The Phnom Penh Post: “They need food so much because [they have received] no money from work.”
The confiscation of passports not only breaks Thai law, it is against Walmart's own policies. Making Change at Walmart has contacted the corporate giant to pressure them to improve conditions. They further detail the abuses:
Workers at Phatthana seafood in Songkhla were recruited from Cambodia and Myanmar with the hope of earning money to support their families. The workers signed an employment contract that guaranteed a decent wage, housing and transportation. But upon arrival to the factory, Phatthana illegally confiscated the passports of as many as 2,000 migrant workers, leaving them in a state of debt bondage, unable to leave the country and barely able to survive....Receiving half the hours and pay promised to them and without promised lodging and transportation, many of the workers face malnutrition because they are unable to even afford enough to eat.
In the Kanchanaburi province, more than 4,000 workers at the Vita Food Factory that processes pineapples and other fruit products for Walmart are reportedly facing conditions that appear to fit the definition of human trafficking and debt bondage. Thousands of workers are striking to protest t heir treatment by the factory and labor agents. Initial reports suggest egregious behavior by Vita Food, including threats of violence, coercion and extortion.
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