Nestle finds abuse, forced labour by its Thai seafood suppliers

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Migrant workers toiling in Thailand's seafood industry to supply global companies such as Nestle are subjected to hazardous, exploitative and degrading conditions in which some fishermen are even sold to other boat captains, a report commissioned by the company found.

The report conducted by Verite on behalf of Geneva-based Nestle and released on Monday (Nov 23) found "indicators of forced labor, trafficking, and child labor to be present among sea-based and land-based workers."

The findings, which are consistent with the non-government group's previous research on Thailand's fishing industry, "present an urgent challenge to any company sourcing seafood."

Thailand's seafood industry has come under global scrutiny in recent years following reports from media outlets such as the Associated Press, the Guardian and Global Post that showed widespread abuse of workers, mainly migrants from neighboring Cambodia and Myanmar. The mistreatment was cited by the US in its annual report on human trafficking, in which Thailand fell to the lowest level, as well as in civil lawsuits filed by consumers in the US accusing companies such as Nestle and Costco Wholesale Corp. of selling seafood caught using slave labour.

The European Union threatened earlier this year to ban Thai seafood imports if the country fails to improve the regulation of its fishing industry. Thailand's military government has said it is working to address the concerns.

In addition to the commissioned report, Nestle also released its own action plan that it said it hopes will help stamp out abuses in its supply chain. The plan includes setting up channels through which workers can air grievances, training for boat captains and owners and establishing better methods of tracing raw materials and verifying labor standards.

"Nestle is committed to eliminating forced labor in our seafood supply chain in Thailand, working alongside other stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue," Magdi Batato, executive vice president of operations at the company, said in a statement. "This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavor, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead."