Nestle accused of using Myanmar slave-caught fish in cat food

29 August 2015
Nestle accused of using Myanmar slave-caught fish in cat food
Part of the US cat food chain? - A migrant fisherman from Myanmar leaves a Thai fishing boat as fishery operations are stopped at a port in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, 01 July 2015.Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

Swiss food giant Nestle is being sued in the United States for allegedly knowingly allowing its Fancy Feast cat food to contain fish from a Thai supplier that uses slave labour.
Pet food buyers who filed the class action lawsuit on Thursday in US federal court in Los Angeles seek to represent all California consumers of Fancy Feast who would not have purchased the product had they known it had ties to slave labour.
Nestle has denied the allegation, telling AFP: "Forced labour has no place in our supply chain." 
According to the lawsuit, Nestle works with Thai Union Frozen Products PCL to import more than 28 million pounds (13 million kilogrammes) of seafood-based pet food for top brands sold in the United States, and that some of the ingredients in those products came from slave labour.
Men and boys, often trafficked from Myanmar and Cambodia, are sold to fishing boat captains who need crews aboard their ship, the complaint said.
It spoke of shifts of up to 20 hours a day with little or no pay, and beatings or even death if the work is deemed unsatisfactory.
"By hiding this from public view, Nestle has effectively tricked millions of consumers into supporting and encouraging slave labour on floating prisons," said Steve Berman, managing partner of the Hagens Berman law firm. 
"It's a fact that the thousands of purchasers of its top-selling pet food products would not have bought this brand had they known the truth -- that hundreds of individuals are enslaved, beaten or even murdered in the production of its pet food."
Nestle lists protection of human rights as one of its Corporate Business Principles.
But "Nestle has failed to uphold its responsibility to ensure the absence of slave labour in its supply chains -- and even worse, Nestle not only supported these human rights violations, but forced consumers to unknowingly do the same."
The Swiss food giant countered that it required "all of our suppliers to respect human rights and to comply with all applicable labour laws."
The company acknowledged, however, that enforcing its strict code of conduct throughout the complex, multi-layered supply-chain in the Thai seafood industry that supplies some ingredients for its products was a challenge. 
"The elimination of forced labour in our seafood supply chain is a shared responsibility and we are committed to working with global and local stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue," Nestle said.
It said that for the past year it had been working with the independent supply chain consultancy Achilles to try to get a better overview of the different levels in the chain.
And Nestle also said it had partnered with the non-governmental organisation Verite, which was collecting information from fishing vessels, mills and farms in Thailand and from ports across Southeast Asia "to identify where and why forced labour and human rights abuses may be taking place."
The company vowed to publish the key findings of the study and present a clear plan of action by the end of the year.