Peeling Prawns

a delicious prawn dish by Ben DogMichael likes eating prawns and I used to buy a packet of frozen peeled prawns for him. When I started looking at where our food came from, I discovered these prawns were from Thailand. I suggested fresh Australian prawns instead. Michael tried them, but didn’t like having to peel them himself. I jokingly said peeled prawns were only available from Thailand because Thai workers peel them for 2c an hour.

Soon after this I read Melody Kemp’s article in Dissent about migrant and trafficked workers in Thailand, including those working in the seafood and fishing industries [1]. Kemp spelt out for me the full details of how appalling these people’s working conditions are. The article begins with a photograph of a young Burmese man who

lost most of his hand in a mixer in a seafood factory. He was given no compensation. [1]

On Thai docks there are machines that could be used to haul fishing nets, but it’s cheaper to use bonded human labour. On Thailand’s industrialised Samut Sakhon eastern seaboard

trafficked Burmese workers have been found working between 17 and 22 hours per day for as little as $10 Australian per month, in the Ranya Paew export seafood factory. [1]

A woman, who could have peeled those prawns I bought, got through 18-20kg a day for 10 baht (about 37 Australian cents) a kilo. Her employer said that agent’s fees and the cost of bedding, food, gloves and hygiene facilities had to be deducted from her wage.

She did not receive a wage at all for the first three months. [1]

I realised with great sadness that she would have been better off in those first three months with my joke of 2c an hour.

Often charities and aid organizations concentrate on helping women and girls, because they are usually the most marginalised [2]. This is an instance where men are at an equal disadvantage to women and while Thailand has laws to protect women in these situations, men and boys do not enjoy this protection. In two instances,

trafficked women taken from the factory were able to be housed in refuges and their cases prosecuted, the employer being charged with trafficking offences. The men were simply deported. [1]

Apart from Thailand, many Asian countries have factory workers subjected to appalling conditions because the workers are not able to (and sometimes not allowed to) bargain for better conditions. Sometimes the workers are migrants from rural areas, rather than those from another country as in Kemp’s article. The culpability for this situation lies with us in richer countries. We buy the goods produced and don’t consider who made them and under what conditions. Campaigns against Nike’s factory conditions came to my attention a number of years ago, but any large sporting, clothing, (insert product) company is the same. Most clothes, household goods, appliances and toys sold in Australia are made in China, Taiwan, etc. Both my camera and MP3 player were made in Indonesia, probably under similar conditions. I really have to stop buying things.


just stop it


  1. Kemp, Melody (2007) “Mind the traffic” Dissent, no.24, p.42-47.
  2. Oxfam Australia (2007) For a just world without poverty. Carlton, Vic: Oxfam Australia.

3 thoughts on “Peeling Prawns

  1. Hi Claire

    There is a case here that popped up recently of a Scottish fishing company catching prawns here, freighting them out to Thailand to be shelled and then on they went to international markets, all because as the owner said, the labour is ‘so much cheaper out there’.

    So not just bonded labour but high carbon tally as well. The prawn and so many products as you say are steeped in the poison of modern slavery. Too many times I find products in shops at a price I can’t believe are so low. Well, we know why.

  2. Hey there all, only an idiot would expect Third World countries to have the employment pay levels and conditions of those experienced in the West. All countries have phases of developement, just as formerly England in the Industrial Revolution had child workers in coal mines to factories, so too today do Third World countries have conditions less than ours. Wake up and stop moaning about conditions in Third World Countries. Only by enacting such practices (ie cheap labour now) can they even hope to develop (if that is indeed their choice). If all the champaign socialists in the West stop buying from them they would be even poorer still.

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