By Abhishek Jha:
Nestlé came out with a report on Monday admitting to labour and human rights abuse in its seafood supply chain for seafood sourced from Thailand and has published an Action Plan to deal with the same. The Action Plan, the company says, has been made on the recommendations of the NGO Verité.
These violations of labour laws and human rights abuse – which include human trafficking, sleep deprivation, insufficient supply of water, deceptive recruitment practices, and physical abuse among others – came to light in July this year with a New York Times report. Following the reports, the law firm Hagens Berman had filed class-action lawsuits against Nestlé and Mars “for their practices of importing fish-based pet food from suppliers who use slave labor.” Despite its own investigation and pledge to end any abuses or violations by its suppliers, Nestlé still may not have an easy time. Steve Berman, the managing partner of Hagens Berman told the New York Times that their “litigation will go forward because Nestlé Purina still fails to disclose on its products, as is required by law, that slave labor was used in its making.”
There is indeed little hope that this self-flagellation is any proof of Nestlé’s commitment to protecting labour rights. This September itself, Nestlé had found in a report it had commissioned in 2013 under international pressure that 7% of west African cocoa farms connected to it employed children as workers and one of the 260 farms visited by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) (on behalf of Nestlé) used forced labour. This is despite Nestlé having signed an agreement along with other members of the cocoa industry towards ending worst forms of child labour in 2001. Terry Collingsworth, a renowned human rights lawyer who had filed a lawsuit alleging trafficking and forced child labour on plantations in Ivory Cost in 2005, had told The Guardian after the FLA reports were published that “allowing the companies to act ‘voluntarily’ to clean up their problem has not, and will not, work. There are lots of options that would work, including rigorous monitoring by an independent monitor who has authority to take corrective action.”
This behaviour is, in fact, reflective of a variety of companies that rely on the cheap labour and resulting cheap production costs to maximise profit. As John Oliver tried to demonstrate this earlier this year with a segment on Fashion, they often feign ignorance and vow action, while continuing their practices by subverting the laws and agreements that they are party to. If the harrowing accounts detailed in the July report of NYT are anything to go by, it’s high time these companies were subjected to independent monitoring both in their own country as well as outside.