Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Guardian exposes Thai slave trade

July 2014

Slaves are being forced to work on ships off the Thai coast to produce seafood for US and European supermarket companies.
Men bought and sold like animals work unpaid on the ships to catch infant and inedible fish, which are ground into fishmeal to be sold either direct or through suppliers to Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods and other prawn companies.
These companies feed the fishmeal to farmed prawns, which are sold to food retailers worldwide.

In an exposé by the UK newspaper The Guardian, men who had escaped from the ships told of 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings.

Fifteen migrant Burmese and Cambodian workers said they had paid brokers to find them factory or building jobs, but they were sold to fishing companies for as little as £250 ($425, €310).

CP is the world’s largest prawn farmer with a $33bn (£19.4bn, €24.3bn) annual turnover, and calls itself “the kitchen of the world”. CP is now considering alternative fishmeal to replace questionable supplies by 2021 if needed.

Thailand is officially committed to eliminating human trafficking as a national priority. However, the under-cover investigation revealed “a lawless and unregulated industry run by criminals and the Thai mafia, facilitated by Thai officials and sustained by the brokers who supply cheap migrant labour to boat owners”.

CP sells its prawns to the largest four global food retailers – Carrefour, Costco, Tesco and Walmart – and Aldi, the Co-operative, Iceland and Morrisons.

All condemned slavery and human trafficking, and several have joined Project Freedom, a group dedicated to finding a solution.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said: “We are … playing an important role in bringing together stakeholders to help eradicate human trafficking from Thailand’s seafood export sector.”

Carrefour said it had tightened up the social audits of its suppliers but admitted it had not checked all the businesses in the chains. Costco intended to require its suppliers “to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources”, and Tesco said it was working with CP to remove slavery from its supply chain.

Morrisons promised to raise the issue urgently with CP. The Co-operative said it was trying to understand “working conditions beyond the processing level” and was engaged with partners to investigate human trafficking.

Tony Baines, Aldi UK’s managing director of corporate buying, said his company insisted suppliers respected applicable national laws, industry minimum standards and international human rights principles.  

Asia | Human rights

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