Slave labour in prawn supply chain
A special investigation by the Guardian has today revealed the extent of slave labour in the supply chains of major supermarkets.
A six month investigation by the paper has shown how slaves forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence are being used in Asia in the production of seafood sold by the likes of Walmart, Carrefour, Costco, Tesco, Aldi, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Iceland.
The paper reports that large numbers of men are bought and sold and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. Investigators say that these boats are integral to the production of prawns.
The investigation found that the world's largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves.
Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.
CP Foods has an annual turnover of $33bn (£20bn) sells its own-brand prawn feed to other farms, and supplies international supermarkets, as well as food manufacturers and food retailers, with frozen or cooked prawns and ready-made meals. It also sells raw prawn materials for food distributors.
A Tesco spokesperson told the Guradian: "We regard slavery as completely unacceptable. We are working with CP Foods to ensure the supply chain is slavery-free, and are also working in partnership with the International Labour Organisation [ILO] and Ethical Trading Initiative to achieve broader change across the Thai fishing industry."
Morrisons said it would take the matter up with CP urgently. "We are concerned by the findings of the investigation. Our ethical trading policy forbids the use of forced labour by suppliers and their suppliers."
The Co-operative was among those saying it was already working to understand "working conditions beyond the processing level". "The serious issue of human trafficking on fishing boats is challenging to address and requires a partnership" in which it is actively engaged.
The managing director of corporate buying at Aldi UK, Tony Baines, said: "Our supplier standards, which form part of Aldi's contractual terms and conditions, stipulate that our suppliers must comply with applicable national laws, industry minimum standards and ILO and United Nations conventions of human rights, whichever standard is more stringent.
"These standards also require that suppliers do not engage in any form of forced labour and related practices. Aldi will not tolerate workplace practices and conditions which violate basic human rights."
Iceland said it only sourced one line containing prawns from a CP subsidiary but it was pleased to note that CP was "at the forefront of efforts to raise standards in the Thai fishing industry".
CP said in a statement that it believed the right thing was to use its commercial weight to try to influence the Thai government to act rather than walk away from the Thai fishing industry, although it is putting in place plans to use alternative proteins in its feed so that it can eliminate Thai fishmeal by 2021 if necessary. It said it had already tightened controls over the way its fishmeal is procured. While it recognises that workers on boats are exploited, it added that the Thai department of fisheries continues to deny that unregistered boats are a problem. "We can do nothing, and witness these social and environmental issues destroy the seas around Thailand, or we can help drive improvement plans. We are making good progress," it said.
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