Archive for ‘Quality of Life’

June 24, 2014

UK to raise slavery concerns with Thailand after prawn exposé

UK to raise slavery concerns with Thailand after prawn exposé

Baroness Warsi says ministers intend to discuss use of slaves to produce supermarket prawns after Guardian investigation

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Baroness Warsi

Baroness Warsi admitted the UK’s influence was limited given the political uncertainty in Thailand. Photograph: Lee Thomas/Zuma Press/Corbis

Ministers will seek ways to raise concerns with Thailand about the use of slaves to produce prawns supplied to UK supermarkets following an investigation by the Guardian, Baroness Warsi, a Foreign Office minister, has said.

The senior Conservative said the government expected the Thai authorities to investigate and would seek opportunities to discuss the issue in diplomatic discussions. In the first response from a minister to the Guardian’s investigation, Warsi admitted the UK’s influence was “limited” given the acute political uncertainty in Thailand.

However, she added: “We take the allegations very seriously and will look for opportunities to raise our concerns. At a minimum, we will continue to press for an improvement in labour rights in Thailand through ongoing negotiations towards an EU-Thailand free trade agreement.”

Warsi said the government had been aware of labour rights issues in the Thai fishing industry, but it was unaware of the “very serious” allegations about global supermarkets selling prawns produced through slave labour that were uncovered by the Guardian after a six-month investigation.

She made the comments in a parliamentary question from Labour peer Lord Beecham, who pressed the government on what it intends to do about the abuse of workers in Thailand’s fishing industry and its response to UK companies that purchase those products.

Earlier this month, the Guardian revealed that slavery is integral to the production of prawns available in leading global supermarkets including Tesco, Walmart, Costco and Carrefour. The investigation discovered that slaves are being forced to work in Thailand for no pay for years at a time, under threat of extreme violence, in the production of seafood sold by major US, British and other European retailers.

UK ministers have until now been silent on the subject, but last week in the US Thailand was relegated to the lowest rank in the state department’s Trafficking in Persons report – meaning it is now considered no better than North Korea, Iran or Saudi Arabia in the way it protects workers from abuse.

Asked about the allegations at the time, David Cameron’s official spokesman said it was up to consumers whether they chose to eat prawns that had been produced through the work of slaves.

“Consumer standards and retail standards and social responsibility is often driven by consumers and rightly so,” he said.

The government is introducing fresh penalties to deter modern slavery through a bill unveiled in the Queen’s speech, but this has been criticised for its narrow focus on slavery in the UK and failure to tackle the problem of goods produced through slavery abroad.

In contrast, Labour has called on the government to do more to stop UK supermarkets stocking food produced by abused workers. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, is pushing for new requirements for firms to declare any use of slavery in their supply chains while the government prefers a voluntary approach.

The Home Office has said the government wanted to work collaboratively with businesses to support them to eliminate forced labour in supply chains “in a way which does not place additional burdens on them”.

It has also pointed out that the EU was likely to enact new laws in 2016 forcing companies to report on human rights in their “business relationships”, which could mean firms would have to audit their supply chains for signs of slavery.

“In taking any further action in this area, the government is, therefore, mindful of existing requirements on business and possible future changes to the business reporting regime,” the Home Office said.

“In doing so, we recognise the complexity of supply chain issues, particularly where they involve links with business overseas and where the influence of UK-based companies is diminished. Cross-government action is being taken to bring businesses together to discuss the challenges and opportunities in tackling modern slavery in supply chains.”

Lord Beecham, a shadow justice spokesman in the Lords, said the government should commit to making “strong representations to the Thai government”. He also called on ministers to “press those UK companies purchasing products from tainted sources to cease doing so until the dreadful exploitation of defenceless workers is ended”.

He added: “If the US can take action, so should we.”


Related News:

Slavery in supermarket supply chains can and must be eliminated

The continued enslavement of migrants working in the Thai fishing industry highlights flaws in the monitoring of suppliersRevealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UKQ&A: how the experts answered your questions
MDG : Thailand seafood industry and slavery : shrimps for sale in supermarket

A Thai customer grabs local shrimp from a shelf to put on a plate at Siam Paragon shopping centre in Bangkok. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP

Human rights abuses remain widespread within the supply chains of some of the world’s largest retailers and brands. Those importing seafood from Thailand must now acknowledge that these abuses include slavery.

The Thai seafood sector employs about 650,000 people, the vast majority of whom are migrant workers from poorer neighbouring countries including Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Many of these workers are trafficked into Thailand and exploited by companies using undocumented, cheap, underpaid workers. The unluckiest, and often the most vulnerable, are sold into slavery to work on Thai fishing boats.

We know this. The Thai government and its agencies know this. The companies doing business with Thailand and selling seafood in Europe, the US and across the world know this.

Thai seafood slavery

Link to video: Thai seafood slavery: four simple things you can do

Steve Trent from the Environmental Justice Foundation suggests four steps to take to help retailers take slavery out of our food supply. As consumers you have the power to change the way your supermarket orders its supply chain – by corresponding with senior executives, you can send a strong message for accountability


It is not only international NGOs, such as the Environmental Justice Foundation, campaigning on this issue. For many years, a range of UN agencies, including the International Labour Organisation (pdf), as well as local Thai and Burmese groups, have recognised human trafficking in the Thai seafood sector as a serious problem.

The US state department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, widely considered the gold standard of global slavery reporting, has also repeatedly highlighted the slavery and abuse of trafficked labourers in Thailand. In 2013, the report found that the country had failed to make sufficient progress in tackling human trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

Beyond the shocking nature of the human rights infringements uncovered, what particularly concerns me about these recent exposés is that many of the companies involved insist they carry out ethical audits of their supply chains under a range of voluntary schemes.

After more than two decades of such schemes, however, extreme abuse within global supply chains remains prevalent. It seems that many of these schemes either always were, or have become, tick-box exercises aimed at fulfilling corporate social responsibility commitments in the boardroom, with little meaningful analysis of their effectiveness on the ground.

Modern supply chains, particularly when sourcing from overseas, can be highly complex. Certainly, there are logistical challenges to address and there will be costs involved. But supply chain complexity and modest financial investment should not excuse companies from failing in their responsibility to ensure their supply chains are free from slavery and environmentally damaging practices.

Companies have the power and the right to demand accountability and require suppliers to provide information on where products come from, how they are produced, and how compliance with labour and environmental standards is monitored. Quite simply, if a company is not able to satisfy itself that human rights abuses don’t exist within a particular supply chain, it should not be sourcing those products.

In reality, it’s an excuse to argue that seafood supply chains are too complicated to unravel. It is possible to take steps to achieve the levels of transparency, traceability and auditing necessary to eliminate illegal, criminal and outright unethical operators.

Monitoring and oversight of supply chains can be implemented without imposing significantly higher costs on customers or creating unnecessary logistical burdens.

More than anything, it is about developing the systems to implement regular checks on suppliers and adopting a scrupulous approach to inspections and audits. This includes ensuring confidential interviews are carried out with workers, and preventing situations in which companies are able to cover up abuses as soon as they know an inspection is imminent. The focus should be on the sectors and products where the highest risks exist, and this information is readily available. The TIP report offers a good starting point for establishing which products could be linked to slavery and human rights abuses

Superr market slave trail

Link to video: Globalised slavery: how big supermarkets are selling prawns in supply chain fed by slave labour

A six-month Guardian multimedia investigation has, for the first time, tracked how some of the world’s big-supermakets, Tesco, Aldi, Walmart and Morrisons, are using suppliers relying on slave labour to put cheap prawns on their shelves. Slavery is back and here’s the proof. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch

Warning: some may find elements of this film distressing.

More on this story: trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers


The issue essentially boils down to organisational will. If this were a consumer safety issue, you can be sure that the necessary action would be taken quickly and efficiently; I challenge anyone in the retail markets in Europe or the US to deny this fact. After all, giving your customers food poisoning is one of the fastest routes to ruining a brand, losing market share and, ultimately, commercial failure. So do we just accept that we can’t do the same to eradicate slavery in our Thai seafood supply? Or do we work together to overcome the obstacles preventing the protection of human rights for those suffering for our food?

It is time for major retailers, brands, importers and suppliers to take determined, decisive action to stop slavery. There are no reasonable arguments left for ad-hoc and largely ineffectual initiatives, for prevarication in the name of dialogue or further study. We are talking about slaves producing food that is on our tables. Business as usual can no longer be an option for any chief executive, nor for shareholders and investors who value their brand, their market share and their profits.


June 24, 2014

Laos stuggles to meet vaccin goals

Steve Finch, Vientiane, Laos

June 23, 2014

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Vientiane, Laos has one of the highest economic growth rates in the region in recent years – about eight percent — but it also has a budget shortfall. That means many state workers including doctors and nurses also haven’t been paid in months.

Amid the ongoing fiscal crisis, aid workers were concerned the government wouldn’t meet a sharply rising financial commitment to fund patchy, but improving immunization coverage. In the absence of a local commitment, there was concern international donors would cry foul, potentially threatening the country’s vaccination program.

Then on May 12, UNICEF reported that Laos had deposited the requisite $530 000, confirming the landlocked Southeast Asian state’s small commitment to the program, which totaled US$7.9 million in 2014. The government’s commitment has placated foreign donors, guaranteeing coverage for the majority of the country’s nearly seven million people.

“In light of the fiscal situation, it is encouraging that the government of Laos is continuing to commit its financial resources to high impact and life-saving interventions for children, such as immunization,” said Julia Rees, acting head of UNICEF’s Laos office, the procurer of vaccines for the country.

In at least one province, local authorities had already asked an international health nongovernmental organization to help fund immunization efforts.

Dr. Soulivanh Pholsena, director of foreign relations at the Laos Ministry of Health, did not respond to questions on the country’s vaccination program.

Laos aims to graduate from least developed country status by 2020 — the first country in the world to state such an ambition — which will mean lowering donor funding. To that aim, the government has been asked to contribute sharply rising annual payments towards routine vaccines. It started funding them in 2012 with a payment of just $22 400.

“Over time, countries take on an increasing share of vaccine costs so that — when the time is right — they are ready to assume the full costs of financing their vaccine programs,” said Rob Kelly, a spokesman of GAVI Alliance, which has disbursed US$19.3 million since 2000 as one of the biggest funders of immunization in Laos.

Although a new real-time, digital vaccine supply system that tracks cold storage and delivery to patients was introduced this year and major progress has been made recently, many people in remote areas still do not receive routine vaccinations.

Laos has increased coverage for measles from just 40% of the population in 2007 to 82% last year, according to the national statistics bureau. But in four provinces, still less than a quarter of babies at the critical age of 12 to 23 months are immunized against the disease.

While the mortality rate for under-fives has reduced much faster than expected, studies by the University of Washington this month did not include Laos on a list of countries expected to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal for reducing child mortality.

Viorica Berdaga, head of health and nutrition at UNICEF Laos, said there was still every chance of reducing under-five deaths by two-thirds to meet MDG4 in time for next year.

“To maintain this pace the government of Laos should continue to increase its resources for the delivery of child survival interventions to those who are hardest to reach,” she said.


June 24, 2014

South Korea gives 2.5 million dollars for Laos clean water project

South Korea gives 2.5 million dollars for Laos clean water project

Vientiane – South Korea has given Laos 2.5 million dollars to improve clean water supplies to a district in the country’s northern province of Oudomxay, a news report said Tuesday.

Ground was broken on the project, funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), in the province’s Xay district on Friday, the Vientiane Times reported.

The new water treatment plant was to supply 3,000 cubic metres of clean drinking water a day to seven nearby villages with a combined population of 8,370 people.

Oudomxay province contributed 300,000 dollars to connect the new plant to the existing pipe network. The project is planned to be completed by April.

Laos has set itself the target of lifting itself out of the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries by 2020.




Korea builds new water supply system in Oudomxay

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Korean Ambassador to Laos Mr Kim Soo-Gwon ( centre right ) and Governor of Oudomxay province Mr Khamla Lingnasone ( centre left ) cut a ribbon to commence work on the new water supply system.

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has provided US$2.5 million for the building of a water supply system in Xay district, Oudomxay province.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction project was held on June 20 in the district.

The system will include one intake facility, a raw water transmission pipe and one water treatment plant, complete with electricity, vehicles, necessary equipment and training for water supply staff.

The production capacity of the system is estimated at 3,000 cubic metres a day, which could supply clean and safe water for seven villages with 8,370 people groupe d in 1,669 households.

According to Director General of the Department of Housing and Urban Planning Mr Khanthavy Thaiphachanh, Oudomxay province has contributed approximately US$300,000 to the project to construct a new clean water pipeline from the new water treatment plant to the existing clean water pipeline.

DM Construction and Trading won the tender to undertake the entirety of the construction work. It plans to complete the project by April 17 next year.

The Republic of Korea Ambassador to Laos Mr Kim Soo-Gwon said the project would provide clean and safe tap water to the people of Xay district, which would contribute to the improvement of their livelihoods.

The project will help villagers escape poverty and contribute to Laos achieving its Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and graduating from the UN’s list of Least Developed Countries by 2020.

Though it is not a large-scale project, the water system symbolises the close cooperation and friendship between Laos and the Republic of Korea.

The Republic of Korea provides assistance not only in water supply but also in education, health and other sectors in Oudomxay province.

Governor of Oudomxay province Mr Khamla Lingnasone thanked the Korean government and people for their assistance.

The project was established in response to Oudomxay province’s urgent needs in the lead-up to it hosting the National Games this December.

Mr Khamla also urged the construction company to work quickly so the system could be used during the games.

The groundbreaking ceremony was also attended by the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Transport Ms Vilaykham Phoosalad, KOICA representative Ms Kim Joung-Ae and other related officials.

By Times Reporters
Latest Update June 24, 2014)


June 2, 2014

Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity


Class of 2014: Big Sky senior – daughter of Laos immigrants – embraces educational opportunity


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Big Sky High School senior Iaong Vang is already on the way to achieving some of her goals upon graduating, spending time working on stem cell research at the University of Montana. The 4.0 student plans to attend UM for premed and a biochemistry degree, and from there to medical school.

If Iaong Vang’s parents had not immigrated to the U.S. from Laos, the Big Sky High School senior likely would not have been allowed to attend school, let alone be set to graduate Saturday.

“I take this seriously,” Vang said about partaking in opportunities offered to her through school.

Her father earned a mathematics degree despite a language barrier between English and Hmong, she said.

“I believe that I can do that as well because I’ve had more opportunities,” she added.

One opportunity has been to do research at the University of Montana, where she spends several hours two days a week in a lab working to control what stem cells grow into and how frequently they reproduce.

Chemistry and biology are her loves and avenues through which she hopes to change the world.

“It’s like a key I can open new doors with,” said Vang, who’s the second youngest of seven siblings.

The 4.0 student also has participated in the Key and Respect clubs, is president of Health Occupations Students of America and a member of the National Honor Society.

In the fall, she will attend UM for premed with the goal of earning a biochemistry degree.

After medical school, Vang said, she plans to be a pediatrician.

“I’ve always loved kids. It breaks my heart to see them sick,” she said.

Helping her sister as Bardet-Biedl syndrome has taken its toll on her body through the years, especially the past year, solidified Vang’s desire to go into medicine.

On Saturday, the sisters will earn their degrees at the same time and Vang said she’s glad to have been able to help Kouchi achieve her goal of graduation.

For several summers, Vang also volunteered as a tutor for kids with minority backgrounds.

Many of them also have Hmong heritage and it helps her reconnect with her roots, Vang said.

When she was young, Hmong was her first language. Now, though, she said she regrets losing fluency. Interacting with the younger children helps her remember, she said.

Vang also attends cultural activities and performs traditional dances.

“It’s something I can’t feel doing anything else and that’s why I love doing them,” she said.

Regardless of what Vang is doing at any given time, her attitude is positive and it’s that attitude that makes her a natural leader in the classroom, said Brandon Honzel, who has taught Vang in two science classes and helped connect her with UM.

“She gets along with everybody,” Honzel said, adding Vang regularly helps other classmates with research and problems.

Her positive attitude rubs off on other students and teachers alike, said Dave Jones, who has taught Vang three sections of chemistry.

“It carries over into just the oomph and drive she brings into the classroom,” Jones said.

When she hits a challenge, Vang doesn’t give up, he said. “She takes a step back and re-evaluates it and gets some perspective on it.”

Vang genuinely values learning new things, he said.

“She’s one of our best,” he added.

Vang said after medical school she ultimately would like to return to Missoula, where she has felt welcome in school and in the community, including when she helps her parents sell vegetables at the farmers market.

“It’s just a sense of welcoming,” she said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved.

May 29, 2014

School to be built in Lao village in memory of Hunterdon’s Jason Fuhr


School to be built in Lao village in memory of Hunterdon’s Jason Fuhr

Rick Epstein / Hunterdon County Democrat


May 29, 2014 at 11:26 AM, updated May 29, 2014 at 2:22 PM

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Hunterdon County Democrat

Ken Hayes bows to the village students.

A friend of West Amwell’s Jason Fuhr wants to build a school in his memory in a remote village in Laos. Ken Hayes of Delaware Township knew Fuhr from church. They were both members of Stockton Presbyterian Church and they and their wives all sang in the church choir and saw each other socially outside of church, too.

Fuhr died unexpectedly in February. He had served many years on the West Amwell and South Hunterdon school boards; was an ardent booster of South Hunterdon High School sports; and ran a golf tournament that raised about $10,000 a year for charity each year.

Hayes owns Aqua Survey, a Kingwood Township company that does a variety of hi-tech work, some of it underwater and much of it colorful, such as hunting for sunken treasure in Florida and finding unexploded bombs buried in Laos. In the course of his frequent trips to Laos, Hayes has lost his heart to the stoic and friendly people of that impoverished country.

Millions of tennis-ball sized bombs, dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, are maiming Laotians as they explode belatedly, and Hayes has been donating and raising funds to outfit them with prosthetic legs. With a $75 donation good for purchase and fitting of one leg, Hayes has leveraged about 400 legs so far, including some donated by Jason and Irma Fuhr.

The Jason School effort is the happy confluence of Jason Fuhr’s devotion to children and their education and Ken Hayes’ love of the Lao people.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Irma Fuhr. “I only wish my husband were alive to see it. He’d be thrilled.” She said it is in keeping with the many things he did for others.

The school will cost $35,000. It will have eight classrooms and four toilets. It will have block walls, concrete floors and tin roofing. Wooded shuttered window openings and a long fluorescent lamp will finish off each room.

About $17,000 has been raised so far. A fundraising event will be held at the Stockton Presbyterian Church on Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m. at which Hayes will talk up the project and show slides of the kids. Hayes promises the Tootsie Roll Pops and root-beer barrel candies “will be flowing,” because those are the signature treats Fuhr kept in his pockets to hand out to anyone he encountered, young or old.

At the center of the fundraiser will be an auction of rare, antique ceremonial silk blankets woven by northern Lao villagers. There are six wedding blankets and one healing blanket. They will be displayed at Cane Furniture in Rosemont 10 days before the event. Hayes expects to hold another fundraiser in Lambertville later on.

Although it’s not hard to find a Lao village sorely in need of a new school, Hayes chose the remote village of Vieng Xay Nalaung because Niddavone, a Lao woman who has helped his company in its operations over there, has educated cousins in the village who would be able to manage the project.

Despite the beauty of the gesture, why ship good American money halfway around the world?

“Because there’s no boundary on little kids, and they all deserve to have a good life,” says Hayes.

Earlier this month, equipped with a broad-brimmed hat and carrying a camera bag crammed full of sunglasses, camera, two liters of water, mosquito repellent, 12 Tootsie Roll Pops and a laminated photo of Jason Fuhr, Hayes set out for the village.

Photo Credit to Ken Hayes/Hunterdon County Democrat

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A fundraising event will be held at the Stockton Presbyterian Church

on Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m.(at which Hayes will talk up the project and show slides of the kids.)

Stockton Presbyterian Church
22 South Main Street
Stockton, NJ 08559
Phone 609.462.5737

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