Hung, Prawn and Quartered

On the train journey back from London last Sunday, I read in the Observer that apparently the UK’s appetite for prawns is fed by brutality abroad.

The article says,

Now a pressure group, Environmental Justice Foundation, is calling for an embargo of prawns from Bangladesh. It claims that at least 150 people have been killed and thousands injured in clashes linked to prawn production after it was transformed into a major export industry to meet growing international demand.

The article goes on to say, that this problem is a result of the lack of regulation in the Bangladesh prawn farming industry, which is in no way helped, it is further alleged, by collusion between the illegal prawn farming gangs and authorities.

Bangladesh is the world’s fifth-largest producer of farmed prawns, exporting ??210 million worth in 2000, providing an estimated 6.5 million kilos to the UK annually, about a tenth of all prawns eaten in Britain. Globally, the prawn trade is thought to be worth nearly ??6 billion a year.

The article further goes on to name names of individuals and companies that import the Bangladeshi prawns into Britain and then quotes Steve Trent, the Director of the Foundation,

“Until there is total reform of the prawn industry it is unacceptable for any Western seafood company to be doing business there.”

I don’t condone the illegal occupation of land by these gangs and am certainly against the attacks on the poor farmers, (pictures and statements from the victims were available in the paper edition which were, rather conveniently, supplied by the Foundation), but I wonder if a call for a total boycott of the Bangladeshi prawn industry is a ‘just’ response.

Unless the Environmental Justice Foundation thinks that all 13,000 prawn farms are run by illegal gangs then such a boycott would lead to even more suffering for genuine prawn farmers.

The fact is, though, that this is hardly mentioned in any of the Bangladeshi press, (at least not the online versions), and I can only conclude that either the problem is being totally overlooked by them, (not likely as they’re quite good at hi-lighting foreign reports of Bangladeshi human rights abuse), or that it’s just another example of sensational news reporting.

I’m proud of the fact Bangladesh is trying to diversify it’s exports and seems to be succeeding to some extent but am disappointed that it’s just the same old ‘Human Right’s Violation’ horse being flogged yet again by the British Press.

That’s not to dismiss the claims out of hand but what research on the ground, (i.e. in Bangladesh), have they done to verify the claims of yet another ‘independent environmental agency’?

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