Mars and Nestlé rocked by slave labour allegations
Pet food brands using suppliers caught in Thai fishing scandal
In late September, a group of consumers filed a class-action lawsuit in California against Mars over the use of forced labour in its pet food supply chain.
A similar lawsuit was filed a month earlier against Nestlé, for the same reason.
Migrant workers unloading fish at the docks in Songkhla. Photo Credit: Adam Dean for The New York Times.
Captive at sea
The actions come after a recent New York Times article exposed the use of forced labour in the South China Sea. The article outlined how migrants were often sold onto fishing boats where they were held captive and forced to work, sometimes for years (watch the video below for Asorasak Thamma's story).
The New York Times’ article focused on a Cambodian man, Lang Long, who was sold by traffickers to a Thai fishing boat, where he was often shackled by the neck, during his two years of captivity. Over the past year, Mars received more than 90,000 cartons of cat and dog food from the cannery supplied by one of the boats where Lang Long was held, according to United States Customs documents.
The article also implicated that Thai Union Frozen Products, Thailand’s largest seafood company, was said to purchase fish from boats using forced labour.
The company said it "is completely committed to eradicating human trafficking in any and every part of our supply chain,” and committed to audit all of its supplier boats.
According to the New York Times, Nestlé’s Fancy Feast cat food was among several major brands of seafood-based pet food exported to the United States by Thai Union. Some of the fish was processed by a subsidiary, Songkla Canning Public Co., and was caught on boats using forced labour.
Dockworkers sort through deliveries of fish. Photo credit: Adam Dean for The New York Times.
Potential violation of consumer protection laws
The two class-action lawsuits filed in the Federal District Court for the Central District of California were brought by consumers who had purchased Fancy Feast, or Iams cat food, made by Mars in the USA. The lawsuits accuse the corporations of violating consumer protection laws, including false advertising and unfair competition, by failing to disclose the use of forced labour.
“Forced labor has no place in our supply chain,” Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestlé Purina, told the New York Times. He added that the company has, however, begun working with the auditing firm Verité to investigate the problem among its suppliers in Thailand. Mars declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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