Nestle Addressing Human Rights Abuses in Thailand’s Seafood Industry

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There have been a substantial number of reports in recent years about human rights abuses by some shrimp-harvesting companies in Thailand. Now Nestle, a major globally-active corporation and a significant importer, processor and distributor of seafood, has established an Action Plan “committed to eliminating forced labor in our seafood supply chain in Thailand,” in the words of Magdi Batato, the company’s Executive Vice President of Operations.

In announcing the Action Plan, he said Nestle will be “working alongside other stakeholders to tackle this serious and complex issue.” He noted that the plan “takes into account recommendations from global NGO Verrite’, which works to help companies understand and tackle labor issues,” a Nestle website said.

A related Nestle website, an expansion of the previously-cited one, stressed that the company is “fully committed to ensuring that our products are not associated with forced labor through our mandatory Nestle Supplier Code and Responsible Sourcing Guidelines (RSG).” Those guidelines “require all of our suppliers to respect human rights and to comply with all applicable labor laws; In the case of fish and seafood, we are, for example, engaging with our suppliers in Thailand to identify any potential unlawful labor practices and pursue appropriate actions to eliminate [them] from our supply chain.”

The issues covered in the Action Plan include:

  • The cost of working papers, accommodation, supplies, food deducted from wages;
  • Limited freedom of movement or freedom to quit without penalty;
  • Recruitment-related fees charged to workers, sometimes in the form of salary deductions;
  • Constraining ability to quit or risk being fired for complaining;
  • Verbal and physical abuse for complaining or for slow work;
  • Workplace environment, living conditions Hazardous work that has resulted, for some, in severe individual injuries;
  • Poor living conditions (personal care) with limited respect of privacy;
  • Use of illegal substances;
  • Poor worker health (because of unbalanced diet);
  • Wages, benefits and working time [including’ excessive overtime; (16+ hour work days for fishermen)
  • Wages withheld until end of employment term constraining workers from complaining or quitting;
  • Undocumented overtime;
  • Child Labor Teenage and juvenile labor.

Among the Plan’s objectives are:

  • Define and communicate requirements to boat owners and/or captains, including recruitment practices and living/working conditions for boat workers. Building on the Marine Catch Purchasing Document, or any other industry recognized best practice, create a set of requirements for boat owners and captains. Requirements will:
  • Be communicated to boat owners (e.g. through contract or visuals),
  • Cover traceability, recruitment practices, fish catching system, living and working conditions for boat workers,
  • Be potentially handed over with an implementation toolkit composed of Employment Contract Template and rules, Worker ID cards, template to monitor worker’s names, working time, salary, and associated deductions if any.And implementation “will be verified,” the Plan notes.
    • Implement a training program for boat owners and/or captains.

    Based on requirements, and together with industry partners and stakeholders within the Thailand Seafood Industry, create a training hub to generate awareness and provide education to ensure effective worker protections in priority areas as determined by Verite’. This training hub may take the form of a “demonstration boat” or “university” where a training program will be given to electable boat owners/captains. As reward and enabler for continuous improvement, program will include a mechanism to apply for financial support to speed up the implementation of best practices learned.

  • Based on the application to the mechanism for financial support, award financial support (in the form of sponsoring or micro credit) for e.g. worker personal protective and care equipment, boat lodging and cooking facilities etc.

Effective use of financial support will be verified.

  • Implement an awareness raising campaign on human rights and labor conditions, targeting primarily boat workers.

In cooperation with local authority and industry partners and stakeholders in the Thailand Seafood Industry, create an awareness raising campaign, addressing at first the topics of labor standards & health and safety at the workplace.

  • Campaign to be deployed in locations identified as impactful for migrant workforce & linked with regular boat’s docking, including the introduction of a grievance mechanism & providing some immediate tangible personal benefits to workers (distribution of free personal & safety care Findings, foods, or equipment’s such as cap/gloves/sunglasses).
  • Campaign will incorporate an anonymous reporting system to identify worst form of labor conditions to be addressed by the Emergency Response Team.
  • Enable the work of a Migrant Workforce Emergency Response team. Identify a 3rd party partner experienced in protecting individuals from the worst form of labour conditions. Deploy and empower this partner organization as the Migrant Workforce Emergency Response Team.
  • Team will be in charge to deploy the necessary assessments to identify individuals in need of immediate assistance.
  • Team will be assisted by a network of other 3rd party local NGOs, to be funded by parties, having the authority to immediately remediate and mobilize any sort of short-term actions to protect the human integrity of the identified individuals (up to e.g. buying debt, regularizing working permits, relocating individuals).
  • Create and implement a fishing vessels verification program.
  • By leveraging opportunities to collaborate with industry partners and stakeholders in the Thailand Seafood Industry, implement, at first, an internal audit program verifying working (labor and health and safety at workplace) conditions in fishing vessels for 100% of the fleet used.
  • Secondly, alongside with monitoring of compliance through Key Performance Indicators, randomly select boats on a monthly basis to undergo a 3rd party verification audit by an independent organization, executed every quarter. 3rd party verification audit should include interview of boat workers and establish history of their working career in the region and country.

An integral part of the Action Plan is a mandate that a Nestle leader be appointed to oversee implementation of the Plan. This leader – who may be part- or full-time, whichever proves to be necessary – will coordinate with relevant parties and ensure all parts of the Plan are functioning as they are supposed to.

 

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