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Point of View: Bangladesh shrimp industry mindful of labor laws
By Mahmudul Karim
June 01, 2008
Editor's note: The following letter was submitted in
response to "The True Cost of Shrimp," a 40-page report
released in late April by the Solidarity Center, a Washington,
D.C.-based workers' rights organization. The report accuses the
shrimp-farming and -processing industries in Bangladesh and
Thailand of abusing workers. See Newsline, p. 8.
The Bangladesh Shrimp and Fish Foundation (BSFF) has long
worked with the Bangladesh Department of Fisheries and
Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) to guide
the shrimp industry and export-related associations in
carefully adhering not only to food-safety rules but also to
environmental, social and labor rules at all stages of the
shrimp industry. The government has a set of labor rules under
the Bangladesh Labor Act of 2006 prepared in conjunction with
the International Labor Organization Convention.
The AFL-CIO filed a petition with the U.S. Trade
Representative against Bangladesh alleging serious violations
of the labor laws in the country's garment and frozen-food
industries. Subsequently, a hearing was held at the USTR in
Washington, D.C., in October 2007. Upon hearing the
Foundation's testimony, the USTR did not impose any negative
measures but decided to keep Bangladesh under observation until
The BSFF responded by conducting a study on the country's
labor rules, including the presence of child labor in
The project's objectives are to list the child labor laws of
the Bangladesh Labor Act of 2006 and assess shrimp processors'
awareness of child labor and determine whether there's
non-compliance. Most members of the Association with
shrimp-processing facilities have given their responses, and
the Foundation is now finalizing its report.
Additionally, the BSFF, the BFFEA and the Department of
Fisheries have organized two awareness seminars regarding the
importance of complying with the Bangladesh Labor Act to remain
competitive in the global shrimp market.
The Department of Fisheries, the Foundation and shrimp
processors and exporters met with a team of USTR
representatives in Bangladesh on April 15 and 16 to brief it on
the various measures Bangladesh has carried out to further
strengthen awareness of and compliance with the country's labor
laws. Upon its return to Washington, the team expressed
satisfaction with the country's progress to the Bangladesh
Then on April 29, representatives from the Solidarity Center
and AFL-CIO visited the BSFF to assure that they do not intend
to harm the Bangladesh shrimp industry and that they fully
appreciate the industry's importance to the country's economy
and its efforts to reduce poverty.
The shrimp-processing industry and Bangladesh government are
well aware and respectful of the country's labor laws and are
adopting measures to ensure they are complied with at all
levels of the industry.
Karim is executive director of the Bangladesh Shrimp and
Fish Foundation; BSFF Chairman Syed Mahmudul Huq also
contributed to this column