Muddy Waters: Seafood From Thailand Stained With Slave Work

(3BL Media/Just Means) – Consumers in America and Europe have recently found a nasty ingredient in the seafood with provenance in Southeast Asia: slave work. Over the last year, it has become public how migrant workers in Thailand have been caught in a vicious cycle of exploitation highlighting how cruel mo​dern slave labor​ can be.​

A study by Verite, an organization that promotes fair labor, has shown that this situation can be traced in the supply chain of almost all U.S. and European companies that buy seafood from Thailand, which has seafood export sector worth $7 billion per year.

This is the deal: migrants arrive in Thailand lured by prospects to get work. Once in the country, brokers illegally charge excessive fees to get them jobs. They end up trapped in placements on fishing vessels and ports, mills and seafood farms, but the money they earn is not enough to pay back their brokers.

The study, which was commissioned by Nestlé, has prompted the company to come forward to denounce the issue in its own supply chain. Nestlé buys​ fish​ from Thailand for its Purina brand Fancy Feast cat food.

The study was a response to reports from news outlets and NGOs that had denounced the link between unregulated labor and the shrimp and prawn industry in Thailand.

To compile the report, Verite did a great deal of ground work in ports, packing plants and docked boats. It interviewed more than 100 people, 80 of whom were workers from Myanmar and Cambodia. It also heard boat owners, supervisors and others, and they confirmed the violence and danger that is present in this environment.

Nestlé announced it would post the reports online, alongside a year-long solution strategy throughout 2016 in order to protect workers in its supply chain. The company has promised it will introduce new requirements on potential suppliers and train boat owners and captains about human rights, besides bringing in outside auditors and an assign a company’s high-level manager to ensure changes are implemented.

Nestlé’s public disclosure has attracted praise from human trafficking watchdogs, who complain that companies ​in general ​merely say they investigate allegations of abuse to avoid bad PR and litigation.

“It’s unusual and exemplary,” Mark Lagon, president of the non-profit Freedom House, a Washington-based anti-trafficking organization, said in a press statement. “The propensity of the PR and legal departments of companies is not to ‘fess up, not to even say they are carefully looking into a problem for fear that they will get hit with lawsuits,” he added.

Other major retailers that import seafood from Thailand have been sued. While a legal action was filed last summer against Nestlé because of the association of Fancy Feast with Thai Union Frozen Products, the company’s commissioning of the Verite study, its actions to resolve issues in its supply chain, and its strong commitment to sustainability make it an unlikely target.

Image credit: Source Intelligence