Global consumer goods producer Nestlé S.A. plans to start cracking down on slavery and human rights labor abuses identified during a recent year-long investigation of the firm’s seafood supply chain.
According to a published report by Food Safety News, the abuses concern impoverished migrant workers from Asian countries who are reportedly sold or induced into virtual slavery to catch and process fish, which then ends up in seafood supply chains via fish farms and other manufactured products. The stated abuses are rife among Asian suppliers which provide Nestlé with raw materials for the company’s shrimp, prawns and Purina brand pet foods.
Verite, an independent investigation firm that focuses on supply chain labor conditions looked into six production sites in Thailand. Three were noted as shrimp farms, two were ports of origin, and one was a docked fishing boat. According to the investigative report, these sites were identified as being linked with the fishmeal (or fish feed) used on farms producing whole prawns for Nestlé. There were reportedly indications of forced labor, trafficking and child labor, as well as deceptive recruitment and pay practices and exploitative and hazardous working conditions. Many of the fishermen were from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Verite has conducted ongoing investigative efforts directed at fishing and aquaculture supply chains and a general overview of supply chain labor conditions can be reviewed in a published research report.
For its part, the global consumer goods giant indicated on Monday that mitigating the situation would not be quick or easy, but that the company was hoping to make significant progress in the months ahead. The plan will focus on ten key activities designed to prevent suppliers from engaging in practices leading to labor and human rights abuses. Nestle pledged to immediately implement the plan, continue activities through next year and publicly report on the progress in its annual report.
The FSN report further cites The Associated Press as recently reporting that more than 2,000 “fishing slaves” from several Asian countries had been rescued from a remote island in Indonesia, some after being held for years, beaten and kept in cages. The AP tracked the fish to supply chains used by Walmart, Kroger, Sysco and others and involving pet food brands such as Iams, Meow Mix and Fancy Feast. In addition, nine people were arrested in connection with that incident, and two cargo vessels were seized.
No doubt, with one of the world’s largest and most prominent consumer packaged goods producers implicated in an independent investigation for alleged slavery and labor abuse practices deep within its fisheries and seafood supply chain, there will be attention brought to resolving such practices over time. Nestle has been lauded for taking active proactive stances in addressing a number of supply chain sustainability and social responsibility challenges, and Supply Chain Matters believes that seafood will be another example of such proactive efforts.
The key, however is recognition that the problem came about because certain producers sought out lower-cost sources of seafood supply, particularly for pet food purposes. It resides in deeper tiers of seafood supply chains in certain parts of Asia. The rest of the global CPG industry and fisheries stakeholders themselves need to come together in a concerted industry-wide effort to add more light to intolerance for such labor abuse practices, with focused efforts and incentives directed at resolving such practices as quickly as possible.
Consumers themselves need to be aware that such labor abuses exist in certain fishery-focused supply chains within Asia and to favor human and pet food producers producers who are taking positive actions to label food origin and who are actively committed to eliminating any supply sources that harvest food with abusive labor practices.