In November 2015, Nestlé became one of the rare companies to highlight forced labour in its own supply chain when it released the results of a year-long internal investigation into practices on prawn farms and fishing boats in Thailand.
A report, conducted on the company’s behalf by non-profit organisation Verité, found the seafood industry in Thailand suffers from widespread human rights abuses, including the use of child labour.
Verité audited six locations that produce fish feed for use by farms supplying whole prawns in a market worth $7bn a year.
Workers, many of whom were employed illegally, complained of labouring without sufficient rest, food or water.
Many said they had been subjected to deceptive recruitment practices that started in their home countries, before being transported to Thailand under inhumane conditions and charged excessive fees that led them to working in debt bondage.
Workers protested that outside contact was cut off and that they had been given fake identities to mask the fact they were working illegally.
Nestlé said labour abuses in the supply chain were so widespread that they expose virtually all European and US companies that buy seafood from Thailand to “endemic risk” in their supply chains.
The Geneva-based company earned praise from many NGOs for what was described as an act of “self-policing”.
Nestlé launched an action plan focusing on 10 key activities aimed at strengthening controls on the supply chain and preventing “suppliers entering into any practice that could lead to labour and human right abuses”.
- Establishing a migrant workforce emergency-response team to take “short term actions that protect individuals at risk”. The company said measures may include buying debt, regularising work permits, and facilitating relocation.
- Setting up a mechanism for workers to express grievances.
- An audit programme to verify working conditions on fishing vessels. Boats will be randomly selected on a quarterly basis to undergo an audit that will include interviews with boat workers to assess working and living conditions.
- Providing training for captains and boat owners operating in the industry. In partnership with other companies and NGOs this will focus on recruitment practices, fish-catching systems and living and working conditions for boat workers.
- Raising awareness about minimum required labour standards.
- Establishing better traceability of raw materials and enabling verification of labour standards in fishing vessels. An identification system for fishing vessels will be set up. Commercial contracts will aim to improve traceability within the supply chain and a system will help identify farms, mills, fishing vessels involved in supplying seafood ingredients to Nestlé. Once identified, these suppliers’ sources will then be continuously assessed and assisted to ensure that they meet responsible sourcing guidelines.
The company, which said it began to implement the plan immediately and would roll it out throughout 2016, also plans to recruit a dedicated manager to oversee implementation of the plan.It also aims to join the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Taskforce, an international alliance of retailers, manufacturers, government and NGOs dedicated to tackling labour issues in the industry.