Swiss food multinational Nestlè has released damning details of a report into the Thai fisheries industry whilst announced measures to combat alleged slave labour among its suppliers.
Nestlé said on Monday that it will set up an emergency response team to look into claims of abuse of many migrant workers in Thailand. The company has also vowed to educate fisherman and establish a registration scheme that would only buy products from safety compliant crews.
Furthermore, Nestlé plans to combine this fishing vessel verification scheme with a system of contracts and checks that would enable the company to trace the exact source of its seafood ingredients.
The action plan was launched following a highly critical report of Thailand’s fishing industry by United States based labour rights NGO Verité. Earlier this year, Nestlé itself commissioned Verité to investigate claims of poor working conditions following negative media reports.
The hard hitting report found evidence of forced labour and human trafficking, including of children, among the large numbers of migrant workers employed by Thai fishing vessels. The vulnerable workers were forced to work long hours with little regard for their safety, the report found.
“Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled in to the water and just disappear,” the report quoted one Burmese migrant 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.”
Nestlé said that it is not alone in facing the issues which affect many other companies that buy seafood ingredients in Thailand. In Nestlé’s case these products are used to make a cat food brand.
“Nestlé is committed to eliminating forced labour in our seafood supply chain in Thailand,” said the firm’s vice-president of operations Magdi Batato. “This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavour, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead.”
The Vevey-based company is facing a class-action lawsuit from pet owners in the US, who issued their complaint in August. They claim that they were deceived by Nestlé into buying products connected to slave labour. Part of the complaint states that Nestlé is culpable because the company had not informed consumers of the risks associated with the product.
Earlier this year, Nestlé faced a highly damaging PR scam when its Maggi noodles were taken off Indian supermarket shelves. The company was accused of failing to respond quickly enough or with the right message to defuse the issue.
swissinfo.ch and agencies