Nestlé leads on anti-slavery action, but will others follow?

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Nestlé praised for tackling labour abuses in the Thai fishing industry such as “job seekers being trafficked for labour, or sold to boat captains”. Image: Flickr/SeaDave
Nestlé praised for tackling labour abuses in the Thai fishing industry such as “job seekers being trafficked for labour, or sold to boat captains”. Image: Flickr/SeaDave

Related tags: Human rights, Slavery

An anti-slavery charity has welcomed Nestlé’s action plan to tackle human rights abuses in the Thai seafood supply chain, and says it hopes other food companies will follow suit.

“It's a very positive step forward in terms of transparency and it's good that Nestlé is extending the action that it began in cocoa to seafood. Other brands that source seafood from Thailand - of which there are many - should follow this example and acknowledge the endemic use of modern slavery within the Thai fishing industry,​ Anne-Marie Barry, project co-ordinator at Finance against Trafficking, told FoodNavigator.

She said the fishing industry was particularly difficult to monitor since many human rights abuses take place at sea and often in international waters where there are question marks over legal jurisdiction.

“Companies need to push the Thai government and monitor the policies and laws that are in place to assess how law and enforcement - and indeed lack of - is contributing to the abuses that affect their supply chains,” ​she said.

She made these comments in light of a report​ she co-authored on the risks of human trafficking in the supply chains of FTSE 100 companies.

“Our report acknowledged the difficulty for companies in monitoring the abuses that take place within the fishing industry and concluded that the first and most important step is transparency, which Nestlé has pioneered here. The next step is for business to work with government,” ​Barry told this publication.

Nestlé takes responsibility

Nestlé’s ‘action plan’, which was unveiled at the end of November, set out measures to protect workers from abuses, improve working conditions and tackle unacceptable practices including juvenile and teenage working.

It followed revelations last year by The Guardian​ newspaper that slaves were being used in the production of Thai seafood sold by major US, British and European retailers.

Nestlé proposed labour abuse actions

  • establishing a migrant workforce emergency response team
  • setting up a grievance mechanism 
  • providing training for captains and boat owners operating in the industry
  • Nestle-logo-and-wordmark
    raising awareness about minimum required labour standards
  • establishing better traceability of raw materials
  • enabling verification of labour standards in fishing vessels

Earlier this year, Nestlé commissioned Verité, an organisation which works with companies to help understand and tackle labour issues, to investigate these allegations of forced labour and trafficking.

The ugly truth

Verité found “job seekers being trafficked for labour, or sold to boat captains​, “verbal and physical abuse for complaining or for slow work​, “poor living conditions​, “excessive overtime​and “teenage and juvenile labour​, to be among the unethical practices that are endemic in Thailand’s seafood supply chain.

Based on these observations, Verité published recommendations not just for Nestlé, but also for suppliers and government authorities.

Nestlé has applied the recommendations to its own supply chain, with an action plan that outlines 10 activities aimed at strengthening the mechanisms to prevent its suppliers entering into any practice that could lead to abuse of Thai fishing industry workers.

Nestlé said it would begin implementing the plan immediately and would report publicly on progress in its annual report.

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