Nestle battles slavery issues on two continents

The allegations relate to fishing and cocoa farming

Food giant Nestle is now dealing with issues relating to slavery on two continents.

Along with Archer Daniels Midland Co and Cargill Inc., Nestle is now involved in a lawsuit at the US Supreme Court over child slavery.  

Nestle, the largest food maker in the world, admitted to cases of forced labour in its supply chain in Thailand last year.

The plaintiffs to the Supreme Court case are originally from Mali but claim they worked as child slaves on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.  It is alleged that Nestle were aware of child slaves on the farms, but continued to work with them, providing financial and technical assistance to secure cocoa at the cheapest possible price, Reuters reported.

Nestle is fighting the lawsuit but the Supreme Court refused to dismiss the case.  

Legal advocacy group International Rights Advocates helped the plaintiffs bring the case.  Executive Director Terrence Collingsworth welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month:

 "On behalf of current and former child slaves in the cocoa sector in West Africa, the plaintiffs hope their case will help to end this inhumane practice,” Mr Collingsworth said.

If the case goes ahead, it could be a “landmark battle over labour used overseas,” according to Reuters reports of lawyers’ statements.  

The revelations about slavery in the fishing industry in Thailand emerged after Nestle themselves commissioned supply transparency specialists Verité to investigate its own supply chain in the region.  The company’s primary interest in Thailand is for the supply of its Purina brand Fancy Feast cat food.

The report found “severe labor and human rights abuses present” in the seafood supply chain.

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Among many examples of ill treatment, the report found that workers, often migrants from Myanmar or Cambodia, were “subjected to deceptive recruitment practices”, transported under “inhuman conditions”, had their freedom of movement restricted and were subject to “intimidation, harassment, and verbal and physical abuse.”

The report carried 21 recommendations for improvements.

"As we've said consistently, forced labour and human rights abuses have no place in our supply chain," said Magdi Batato, Nestlé's executive vice-president in charge of operations, after the report was released.

 "Nestlé believes that by working with suppliers we can make a positive difference to the sourcing of ingredients."

The Independent has contacted Nestle for comment.