The lion’s share of the tropical shrimp we consume in Western and Northern Europe comes from Asia. The largest Asian exporting countries to the Western and Northern Europe are India, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh. These countries produce almost solely for the export.
A large part of the shrimp production is prepared to some extent in these countries before it is exported. Large factories dedicate themselves to more refined forms of processing, such as cooking, breading and seasoning the shrimp. The most labour intensive work is the pre-processing phase: removing the heads, veins and hard shell of the shrimp. The pre-processing of the shrimp is very delicate work and can only be done by hand. It is usually performed by a large labour force at pre-processing facilities.
Work in the fishing industry is considered a ‘3D-job’: dirty, dangerous and demeaning. This type of work is low-skilled and is typically done by a vulnerable workforce: women who come from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Many of them have migrated from poorer areas or countries to find employment. This makes them extra vulnerable to exploitation. However, their wages are so low that they have little chance of escaping their jobs in the shrimp industry.
Several sustainability issues – both environmental and social – are affecting the shrimp sector in Asia. Although the shrimp sector in Asia provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, it does not pay its shrimp workers generously. Asian shrimp workers earn poverty wages which are not enough to live on, forcing them to work long hours with little to no job security.
In Thailand, most shrimp workers get paid the official Thai minimum wage or even less than this, which is only 300 baht (6.85 euros a day). This wage is at best only 70% of what a living wage should be.
Their paltry wages are even further decreased by numerous deductions, such as costs related to migration status (passport and work permit related costs), punishments for exceeding toilet restrictions or for making mistakes with equipment, such as knives, which are needed for the beheading of shrimps. Many workers do not even know how much debt they have left with their employer, as they can hardly understand the payment slips – if they even receive them – which are printed in English or Thai.
While Asian shrimp workers only earn a few euros a day, European supermarkets had a turnover of about €3 trillion in 2012. These European supermarkets are the ones with the power when negotiating prices and terms and conditions with suppliers. They, therefore, have the power to change the abuse of Asian shrimp workers and ensure their human rights are respected.
We are calling upon several European supermarkets to ensure that workers in their supply chains earn a living wage. Read more about this work and their responses on our Living Wage programme page.
In April 2015 we published the report Caught in a trap – The story of poverty wages behind Asian shrimp sold in European supermarkets which revealed the issues at stake in the Asian shrimp industry in which we focused on the human rights violations suffered by Asian shrimp peelers.