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June 12, 2014
New Feed Ingredients—Slavery and Murder
A six-month investigation by The Guardian, a highly respected newspaper in the United Kingdom, has established that large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of shrimp sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco.
The investigation found that the world’s largest shrimp farmer, Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed shrimp, 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 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.
Fifteen migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia also told how they had been enslaved. They said they had paid brokers to help them find work in Thailand in factories or on building sites. But they had been sold instead to boat captains, sometimes for as little as $420.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain. “They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food. …They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings.”
Another trafficking victim said he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea.
“We’d get beaten even if we worked hard,” said another. “All the Burmese, on all the other boats, were trafficked. There were so many of us it would be impossible to count them all.”
CP Foods—a company with an annual turnover of $33 billion that brands itself as “the kitchen of the world”—sells its own brand of shrimp feed to other farms, and supplies international supermarkets, as well as food manufacturers and food retailers, with frozen or cooked shrimp and ready-made meals. It also sells raw shrimp materials to food distributors.
In addition to Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, The Guardian identified Aldi, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Iceland as customers of CP Foods. They all sell frozen or cooked shrimp, or ready meals such as shrimp stir-fry, supplied by CP Foods and its subsidiaries. CP Foods admits that slave labor is part of its supply chain.
“We’re not here to defend what is going on,” said Bob Miller, CP Foods’ UK managing director. “We know there are issues with regard to the material that comes in, but to what extent that is, we just don’t have visibility.”
How does the supply chain work? Slave ships plying international waters off Thailand scoop up huge quantities of “trash fish”, infant or inedible fish. The Guardian traced this fish to factories where it is ground down into fishmeal for onward sale to CP Foods. The company uses this fishmeal to feed its farmed shrimp, which it then ships to international customers.
The alarm over slavery in the Thai fishing industry has been sounded before by non-governmental organizations and in UN reports. But now, for the first time, The Guardian has established how the pieces of the long, complex supply chains connect slavery to leading producers and retailers.
“If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.
The Guardian conducted dozens of interviews with fishermen, boat captains, boat managers, factory owners and Thai officials in and around various ports in Thailand, which enjoys a prime position as the world’s largest shrimp exporter in a vast seafood-export industry estimated to be worth some $7.3 billion.
The Guardian’s findings come at a crucial moment. After being warned for four consecutive years that it was not doing enough to tackle slavery, Thailand risks being given the lowest ranking, Tier-3, on the USA State Department’s human trafficking index, which grades 188 nations according to how well they combat and prevent human trafficking. Relegation to Tier-3 would put Thailand, which is grappling with the aftermath of a coup, on a par with North Korea and Iran, and could result in a downgrade of Thailand’s trading status with the USA.
Global Retailers Condemn Human Trafficking
Global retailers condemn human trafficking, with some saying they were aware of reports of slavery and are trying to tackle it.
The Guardian traced CP shrimp to the top four global retailers—Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco—and other big-name supermarkets including Morrisons, the Co-operative, Aldi and Iceland and asked them to comment on the slavery in the supply chain.
All said they condemned slavery and human trafficking and conducted rigorous social audits. Some appeared already aware that slavery had been reported in the Thai fishing sector and said they were setting up programs to try to tackle it.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said: “We are actively engaged in this issue and playing an important role in bringing together stakeholders to help eradicate human trafficking from Thailand’s seafood export sector.”
Carrefour said it conducts social audits of all suppliers, including the CP processor that supplies it with some shrimp. It tightened up the process after alerts in 2012. It admitted that it did not check right to the end of its complex chains.
Costco told The Guardian that it requires its suppliers of Thai shrimp “to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources”.
Tesco said: “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 Labor Organization and Ethical Trading Initiative to achieve broader change across the Thai fishing industry.”
Morrisons said it would take the matter up with CP Foods urgently. “We are concerned by the findings of the investigation. Our ethical trading policy forbids the use of forced labor by suppliers and their suppliers.”
The Co-operative was among those claiming 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, it said.
Aldi UK said its contractual terms stipulate that suppliers do not engage in any form of forced labor. “Aldi will not tolerate workplace practices and conditions which violate basic human rights.”
Iceland said it only sourced one line containing shrimp from a CP Foods subsidiary, but was pleased to note that CP was “at the forefront of efforts to raise standards in the Thai fishing industry”.
The supermarket sector has been aware of conditions on some Thai fishing vessels for a while, thanks to reports from the United Nations and non-government organizations. In a 2009 survey by the United Nations Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking, 59% of migrants who had been trafficked on to Thai fishing boats said they had seen the murder of a fellow worker.
The Environmental Justice Foundation also reported on slavery and forced labor imposed by violence on Thai trawlers and alleged police collusion.
Retailers have focused, however, on abuses that came to light further up the Thai shrimp supply chain—in processing and packing factories or in companies subcontracted to peel shrimp. It seems the parlous state of fish stocks and the pressure to monitor supply chains for sustainability has made the issue of slavery visible. Two retailers who did not wish to be named said that when they started to look at where fish for shrimp feed was coming from, it became clear that the boats engaged in illegal fishing were also likely to be using trafficked forced labor.
Retailers have joined an initiative called Project Issara (Project Freedom) to discuss their response and several were at a meeting with producers in Bangkok at the end of last month at which slavery was discussed.
CP Foods Argues That 72% of Its Suppliers Are Certified
Charoen Pokphand Group, the parent of CPF, argues that the portion of feed meal that may be involved such slavery practices is minimal since 72% of its suppliers are certified.
On June 11, 2014, in a response to the articles in The Guardian, the CP Group issued a statement late, saying fishmeal made up less than 10% in its production of fish feed for its shrimp. In the statement CP said, “Fundamentally, CP believes that from factory to fishing boat each and every person who works for CP, with CP as a supplier or through any part of CP’s supply chain must, as an absolute minimum be treated fairly and with dignity at all times.”
Currently, CP sources fishmeal to make fish feed from 55 independent fishmeal processing plants of which 40, or 73%, are certified. It explained these independent plants process fishmeal from either by-product or by-catch.
To improve the situation, CP said it is auditing its entire operation and will implement an independent spot check coordinated system for ensuring that its supply chain is and continues to be slavery-free.
By 2015, it plans to buy fishmeal only from certified suppliers.
It also claims to be the only manufacturer paying a supplier a premium for fully certified products. At the end of 2013, CPF paid an additional $1.5 million in premium payments.
Blake Lee-Harwood, communications and strategy director with Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, said to get a clear view of the supply chain, the Thai shrimp industry must support unannounced labor audits of boats providing fishmeal.
Sources: 1. The Guardian. Revealed: Asian Slave Labour Producing Prawns for Supermarkets in US, UK. Kate Hodal and Chris Kelly in Songkhla, Thailand, and Felicity Lawrence in the United Kingdom. June 10, 2014. 2. The Guardian. Wal-Mart, Tesco and Costco Among Retailers Responding to Revelations of Slavery in Prawn Supply Chains. Felicity Lawrence. June 10, 2014. 3. Seafood.com (an online, subscription-based, fisheries news service). Editor and Publisher, John Sackton (phone 1-781-861-1441, email email@example.com). CP Responds to Charges About Slavery; Says by 2015 Will Buy Fishmeal Only at Certified Plants. June 11, 2014. 4. Undercurrent News. Editor, Tom Seaman (firstname.lastname@example.org). SFP: Thai Shrimp Farms Must Support Unannounced Audits of Fishmeal Suppliers. Neil Ramsden (email@example.com). June 12, 2014.
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