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OM in the News: Human Rights Abuse Investigated by Nestle

December 1, 2015
Most of Thailand's seafood workers are migrants brought in illegally by traffickers

Most of Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants brought in illegally by traffickers

The seafood industry in Thailand suffers from widespread labor and human rights abuses, exposing virtually all American and European companies that buy seafood from there to the “endemic risk” of having these problems as part of their supply chain, according to a report just released by the food giant Nestlé. The report cataloged deceptive recruitment practices, hazardous working conditions and violence on fishing boats and in processing factories. It also faulted the industry for taking insufficient steps to ensure that workers were not underage. (Nestle had been sued in August, with the claim that its Fancy Feast cat food was the product of forced labor, reports The New York Times–Nov. 24, 2015).

Most of Thailand’s seafood workers are migrants from neighboring Cambodia or Myanmar; they were provided fake documents and often sold to boat captains. On fishing boats, these workers routinely faced limited access to medical care for injuries or infection; worked 16-hour days, 7 days a week; endured chronic sleep deprivation; and suffered from an insufficient supply of water for drinking, showering or cooking. “Sometimes, the net is too heavy, and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear,” one Burmese worker said. “When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water.”

Workers sometimes went a year before receiving any wages, and some faced physical and verbal abuse if they did not meet production quotas. Nestlé said that next year it would announce new requirements for all potential suppliers as well as the details of a plan for hiring auditors to check for compliance with new rules. Because Nestlé is the world’s biggest food company, it is seen as a leader in the industry, and could have a positive impact on the whole industry by raising the bar on labor protection.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why did Nestle issue this report?
  2. What can be done to stop worker abuse?
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