A nationwide class of pet food consumers filed a lawsuit this week against Nestlé Purina alleging that the pet food manufacturer knowingly supports a system of slave labor and human trafficking to produce its Fancy Feast cat food, while hiding its involvement with human rights violations from the public.
The complaint alleges that Nestlé works with a Thai partner, Thai Union Frozen Products, to import more than 28 million pounds of seafood-based cat and dog food – ingredients of which were obtained through slave labor – for many top pet food brands according to United States Customs documents, including Nestlé.
The lawsuit draws extensively from a recent New York Times investigative report, Sea Slaves: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock, that described horrific conditions in which workers on Thai vessels – virtual floating prisons – far from shore are beaten or even murdered in the production of small forage fish that become food for pets.
Nestlé said in an e-mailed statement that forced labor “has no place in our supply chain” and rejected allegations that it had knowingly allowed cat food to contain fish from a Thai supplier suspected of using slave labor.
In a report published this month by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs of the United States Department of Labor, confirms that fish and shrimp from Thailand are likely the product of forced labor and faulted the Thai government’s record in fighting exploitation.
Likewise, Anti-Slavery International, has commented, “if you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the product of slave labor.”
In contrast, Nestlé claims to have had no knowledge of forced labor in their seafood supply chain and that it requires “all of our suppliers to respect human rights and to comply with all applicable labor laws.”
Nestlé admitted however, that enforcing its strict code of conduct throughout the complex, multi-layered supply-chain in the Thai seafood industry is challenging.
The lawsuit says, that Nestlé’s “hollow statements mask a tragic truth that keeps thousands of impoverished men and boys trapped on the open sea with little or no hope of ever returning home.”
In an effort to better understand their supply chain, Nestlé has hired two outside consultants, Achilles and Verite, to get a better overview of the different levels in the chain by collecting information from fishing vessels, mills and farms in Thailand and from ports across Southeast Asia.
Presently, because Nestlé is not able to trace fish used in their pet food back to the fishing boats that source it, they have no way of assuring consumers that fish caught by slaves is not in their pet food.
Until such a time exists when fish from Thailand can be traced back to it’s source, there is not a single pet food that has fish in it that consumers can be certain is not the result of slave labor, including Nestlé’s pet food.
CALLING ALL CONSUMERS
Additionally, the law firm handling the case suggests that, in addition to Nestlé, Mars pet food is also importing from the same supplier, Thai Union, that uses forced labor practices. They are asking consumers who live in California and would not have purchased Fancy Feast or Iams brand wet cat food, had they known that Nestlé and Mars buy from a company using slave labor to contact Hagens Berman online, email them at email@example.com or call them at 206-623-7292.
The case is Barber v. Nestle USA Inc., 15-cv-01364, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
READ MORE ABOUT IT
Ian Urbina, ‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets & Livestock, New York Times (July 27, 2015);
Kate Hodal and Chris Kelly, Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns, The Guardian (June 20, 2014);
United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, Exploitation of Cambodian Men at Sea: Facts about the Trafficking of Cambodian Men on to Thai Fishing Boats (Apr. 22, 2009);
Environmental Justice Foundation, Pirates and Slaves: How Overfishing in Thailand Fuels Human Trafficking and the Plundering of Our Oceans (2015);
Robin McDowell, Margie Mason, Martha Mendoza, AP Investigation: Are slaves catching the fish you buy? (Mar. 25, 2015).