In a series of lawsuits earlier this year, pet owners in the U.S. accused Swiss food multinational Nestlé of deceiving them into buying products connected to slave labor. The complaint claimed that Nestlé was liable because it did not inform consumers of the risks associated with their products — most notably, the Fancy Feast cat food.
Consumers also took issue with the treatment of workers on fishing boats in Thailand, which led the Geneva-based company to conduct its own investigation. It hired Verité, a nonprofit third party, to investigate the claims of slavery and abuse among Thai workers, and as it turns out, the vendors were indeed severely mistreated along their supply chain.
Moreover, the company’s internal investigation report also confirmed that virtually all U.S. and European companies buying seafood from Thailand deal with same suppliers — meaning they are all exposed to the risk of slavery and abuse in their supply chains.
As the report reveals, most of the Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants from neighboring countries of Cambodia and Myanmar, who enter the country illegally. Traffickers often sell them to fishing boats, where these poor people work 16-hour days, seven days a week. They also face limited access to medical care for injuries or infection, endured chronic sleep deprivation, and suffered from an insufficient supply of water for drinking, showering or cooking, according to the report.
“Sometimes, the net is too heavy, and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear,” said a Burmese worker. “There was a lot of fighting. People are tired, and easily get angry. They would kill each other. When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”
Following the unusual — yet commendable — disclosure, Nestlé said on Monday that it will set up an emergency response team to look into claims of migrant workers. The food giant has also vowed to educate the fishermen and establish a registration scheme to only buy products from safety compliant crews.
“Nestlé is committed to eliminating forced labor in our seafood supply chain in Thailand,” stated the firm’s vice-president of operations Magdi Batato. “This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavor, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead.”
This issue is way bigger than one company admitting the horrendous truth about its suppliers, but this report is definitely a step in the right direction.
The food giant has also said that it is difficult for multinationals sourcing seafood from Asia to avoid the offending boats, or avoid buying from seafood farms that use fish caught using slave labor to feed their fish in turn. However, Nestle is committed to eliminate such factors.