WASHINGTON - Impoverished migrant workers in Thailand are sold or lured by false promises and forced to catch and process fish that ends up in global food giant Nestle SA's supply chains.
The unusual disclosure comes from Switzerland-based Nestle SA itself, which in an act of self-policing announced the conclusions of its yearlong internal investigation on Monday. The study found virtually all U.S. and European companies buying seafood from Thailand are exposed to the same risks of abuse in their supply chains.
Nestle SA, among the biggest food companies in the world, launched the investigation in December 2014, after reports from news outlets and nongovernmental organizations tied brutal and largely unregulated working conditions to their shrimp, prawns, and Purina brand pet foods. Its findings echo those of the Associated Press in reports this year on slavery in the seafood industry that have resulted in the rescue of more than 2,000 fishermen.
The laborers come from Thailand's much poorer neighbors, Myanmar and Cambodia. Brokers illegally charge them fees to get jobs, trapping them into working on fishing vessels and at ports, mills, and seafood farms in Thailand to pay back more money than they can ever earn.
"Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear. When someone dies [on the boat], he gets thrown into the water," one Burmese worker told the nonprofit organization Verite commissioned by Nestle.
"I have been working on this boat for 10 years. I have no savings. I am barely surviving," said another worker. "Life is very difficult here."
Nestle said it would post the reports online - as well as a detailed yearlong solution strategy throughout 2016 - as part of ongoing efforts to protect workers. It has promised to impose new requirements on all potential suppliers and train boat owners and captains about human rights, possibly with a demonstration vessel and rewards for altering their practices. It also plans to bring in outside auditors and assign a high-level Nestle manager to make sure change is underway.
Nestle is not a major purchaser of seafood in Southeast Asia but does some business in Thailand, primarily for its Purina brand Fancy Feast cat food.
For its study, Verite interviewed more than 100 people, including about 80 workers from Myanmar and Cambodia.