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THE Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) will reveal evidence of human rights and labour abuses which take place in Bangladesh's shrimp industry, in a report and film launched on January 16.
The report will highlight that, although shrimp is one of the most valuable fisheries products in the world, Bangladesh is among the top ten exporters of shrimp and shrimp is its second largest foreign currency earner after the garment industry, workers face exploitative employment conditions.
Featuring testimonies recorded during investigations in 2012, 'Impossibly Cheap: Abuse and Injustice in Bangladesh's Shrimp Industry' documents examples of hazardous working conditions, the use of child labour, bonded labour, withholding of pay, excessively low wages, health and safety violations, restricted union activities, verbal abuse and excessive hours.
The report examines how global demand for a plentiful supply of cheap shrimp has caused rapid expansion of the industry and significant regulatory gaps. The majority of the sector is unregistered and informal and this, coupled with a lack of transparency in the supply chain, allows human rights and labour violations to occur unchecked.
There is a hidden human cost to shrimp imported from Bangladesh for distribution and sale in the EU and US, says the EJF. Current legal requirements for imports are concerned with food safety, hygiene and consumer health protection with little consideration of potential labour and human rights abuses in the supply chain of the producer country.
EJF is calling for the strategic and long-term commitment of all shrimp industry stakeholders to bring an end to human rights and labour abuses and foster the development of socially equitable and environmentally responsible shrimp farming.
Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, said: "It's outrageous than an industry generating such high levels of export revenue is failing to uphold the basic human rights of the workers that produce its products. Consumers in Europe and the US should be aware of the hidden cost to the impossibly cheap shrimp we consume that involves the brutal treatment of workers. In the 21st century, food produced by forced or bonded labour should not be on our plates.
"The problems are systemic but the importance of export markets to Bangladesh's shrimp industry offers an opportunity for retailers and consumers to use their power to stand up for the basic rights of those who provide our shrimp. Changes to the structure, management and regulations of the industry could protect those who are vulnerable and suffering from abuses and allow the people of Bangladesh to benefit from their natural resources."