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Point of View: Bangladesh shrimp industry mindful of labor laws

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
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 June 2008.

The BSFF responded by conducting a study on the country's labor rules, including the presence of child labor in shrimp-processing facilities.

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 Embassy.

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

 

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