Both companies in collaboration with Verité — a non-profit organisation that conducts research, advocacy, consulting and training for labour under safe, fair and legal conditions — refurbished a traditional Thai fishing boat, transforming it into a vessel demonstrating good living and working conditions.
The vessel features adequate and clean food and drinking water, a first-aid kit, toilet facilities with proper sanitation standards and appropriate rest, dining and leisure areas on-board.
“Human and labour rights abuses have no place in our supply chain. This programme marked an important milestone in the collaborative efforts to address the complex issue of labour and human rights abuses in the industry, and we are thankful of the support of the Thai government as well as our partners,” said Magdi Batato, executive vice-president, head of operations, Nestlé S.A.
Boat owners, captains and crew members are now taking part in training sessions to familiarise themselves with these conditions and standards.
The sessions so far have taken place in the Thai provinces of Trat and Pattani. More will take place throughout this year.
Visible public-private commitment
The programme, which brings together public and private enterprises, is in line with Nestlé’s Action Plan for Responsible Sourcing of Seafood, which was introduced in 2015.
“So far, we have been able to achieve 99% traceability for wild-caught tuna back to the vessel used, and 99% of the farmed shrimp to the farms used. The business requirement of our Action Plan is signed off by 100% of our suppliers’ suppliers,” said Batato.
Batato said Nestlé has also banned transshipment at sea and together with the Issara Institute — a Southeast Asian NGO tackling issues of human trafficking and forced labour — has implemented an Inclusive Labour Monitoring system that covers over 35,000 workers in the company’s supply chain.
Likewise, Dr Darian McBain, global director for sustainable development at Thai Union, said the company is committed to upholding human rights and providing safe, legal and freely-chosen employment in the company’s facilities and supply chain.
“While we have significant programmes in place for our own employees, we partner with government and stakeholders on various projects to help ensure those working in the wider fishing industry are protected as well,” he said.
More to be done
According to Green Peace, Thailand is the world’s fourth-largest seafood exporter, with recent annual revenues of over US$6.5b. However, in recent years, Thailand’s fishing industry has been put under the spotlight as a stream of reports have exposed shocking labour and human rights abuses linked to the supply chains of the country’s industry as well as major global seafood producers.
Some South East Asian governments, including Thailand, have increasingly been cracking down on various parties involved in human trafficking and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Nevertheless, earlier this year, NGO Human Rights Watch said slave labour and other serious human rights abuses are still commonplace in the Thai fishing industry. It drew up a checklist for European manufacturers to avoid buying 'slavery seafood'.
Toward the end of last year, a comprehensive study by NGO International Justice Mission, funded by the Walmart Foundation, also documented the prevalence of forced labour in the Thai fishing industry. The study found 38% of fishermen on Thai fishing vessels identified as victims of trafficking exploitation.
It was also highlighted that 14% experienced physical abuse, and 31.5% witnessed a crewmate’s abuse at sea.