Major food company Nestle has admitted that they use slaves in Thailand in order to catch and process fish. The country lures impoverished migrant workers in the Southeast Asian country with false promises, before forcing them to be a part of their supply chain, often with no pay. Many of these fish end up being used in products that are sold in the United States and Europe.
Since late last year, Nestle has been accused of utilizing slave labor and forcing their workers into brutal and unregulated working conditions. The recent confession by Nestle confirms reports made by others that thousands of slaves are currently being forced to work in the seafood industry.
Many of the slave laborers in Thailand originally come from the even poorer neighboring countries of Myanmar and Cambodia. Brokers illegally charge the migrants in the promise that they will obtain jobs. From there, the migrants are tricked into working on fishing vessels, at ports and at seafood farms. The workers are told that they will be released when they can pay back the brokers, but their wages are so low that this will never happen.
While being interviewed by a non-profit organization, one Burmese slave said, “Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear. When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.
Another slave said, “I have been working on this boat for 10 years. I have no savings. I am barely surviving. Life is very difficult here.”
Nestle has stated that it would offer a transparent view of the situation, and it will establish a solution strategy throughout next year. The company says that it will be an ongoing effort to protect their workers from abuse. Nestle has also promised that it would impose stricter requirements on its suppliers in regards to human rights. The food company will also bring in outside investigators to ensure that proper changes are indeed being made.
Executive vice president for Nestle Magdi Batato said, “As we’ve said consistently, forced labor and human rights abuses have no place in our supply chain. Nestle believes that by working with suppliers we can make a positive difference to the sourcing of ingredients.”
The situation looks pretty bad for Nestle, but there is at least one positive. While most instances of such worker abuse would normally be exposed by an outside investigation, Nestle did take the initiative of stepping forward and admitting its wrongdoing on its own. This move was extremely unusual for a multinational corporation like Nestle. Although it doesn’t change the fact that what Nestle is doing is extremely unethical. At the very least the company is taking responsibility.
The president of the anti-trafficking organization Freedom House Mark Lagon said, “It’s unusual and exemplary. 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.”
Nestle is already being sued in the United States by pet food buyers who say that the products they purchased were the result of slave labor. The products have been sold at places like Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger. Additionally, slave labor from Nestle has supplied seafood at various eating establishments, as well as frozen seafood products.
This isn’t the first time Nestle has taken advantage of people in developing countries. In the past, Nestle would offer free samples of their baby formula to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The free samples would be designed to last just as long as it would take for the mothers to stop naturally producing their own breast milk. Since the mothers would use the free samples instead of their own milk, they would be forced to start purchasing more baby formula throughout the infancy of their children to make up for the lack of their own milk.