Nestlé S.A. plans to start cracking down on slavery and other human rights and labor abuses identified during a recent year-long investigation. The Swiss transnational food and beverage company announced the plan on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. These abuses involve poor 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. According to the investigation, completed by Amherst, MA-based Verité, a group focusing on labor conditions related to global supply chains, such abuses are rife among Asian suppliers which provide Nestlé with raw materials for the company’s shrimp, prawns and Purina brand pet foods. Verité’s assessment, “Recruitment Practices and Migrant Labor Conditions in Nestlé’s Thai Shrimp Supply Chain,” looked into six production sites in Thailand. Three were shrimp farms, two were ports of origin, and one was a docked fishing boat. According to the report, these sites were identified as being linked with the fishmeal (or fish feed) used on farms producing whole prawns for Nestlé. Verité found 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 (formerly Burma), Laos and Cambodia. Nestlé, the largest food company in the world in terms of revenue, noted that the results of its contracted investigation indicated that any food company sourcing Thai seafood is risking the possibility of human rights abuses in their supply chains. The Associated Press recently reported 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. 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. Nestlé said 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 10 key activities designed to prevent suppliers from engaging in practices leading to labor and human rights abuses. The company stated that it will set up a migrant workforce emergency response team with a grievance mechanism, train captains and boat owners operating in the industry, raise awareness about minimum required labor standards, establish better traceability of raw materials, and enable verification of labor standards in fishing vessels. Nestlé also pledged to immediately implement the plan, continue activities through next year and publicly report on the progress in its annual report. Pet food buyers in California filed a class-action lawsuit against Nestlé in August alleging that a supplier in Thailand, Thai Union Frozen Products, was using slave labor to produce fish for the company’s Fancy Feast cat food. Greenpeace has raised additional concerns about that particular supplier involving environmental and sustainability practices. In response to the California lawsuit, Nestlé stated that it was investigating the complaints and that forced labor had no place in its supply chain.
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