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Fisherman's Death Is Example of Labor Abuses

Migrant workers unload frozen fish from a boat at a fish market in Samut Sakhon Province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, June 20, 2014.
Migrant workers unload frozen fish from a boat at a fish market in Samut Sakhon Province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, June 20, 2014.
Nestle Reveals Fishing Industry Labor Abuses
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A Vietnamese fisherman was killed last week while working in the contested waters of the South China Sea.

His boat and the 13 surviving crew members returned to the port of Sa Ky on Tuesday. They said they were attacked by eight men on two speedboats while fishing near the Spratly Islands.

The nationality of the attackers is not known but Vietnamese authorities promised a thorough investigation of the incident.

The attack underscores the difficult conditions faced by Asian fisherman in a largely unregulated industry. Not only do fishermen face attacks like these, they work under difficult conditions.

In fact, Nestle SA, one of the world’s biggest food companies, says it is looking into the labor practices of some of its seafood suppliers in Thailand.

Nestle SA started investigating the lives of workers after news reports about bad conditions on fishing boats, docks and at processing plants in Thailand. Nestle reported its findings in November.

The report described how poorly some of Nestle’s suppliers treated their workers.

Migrant workers from poor countries near Thailand were sold into forced labor. They were lured by promises of better income.

But when they arrived to work, they were forced to catch and process fish that end up in the supply chains of Nestle and other global food companies.

The workers receive little rest – often working 16-hour days – and little health care. The workers are also charged fees to be able to work, and that eats into their low pay.

Nestle hired an independent organization, called Verite, to report on the working conditions in Thailand.

Verite spoke with 100 people familiar with the seafood industry in Thailand, including 80 workers from Cambodia and Myanmar.

One worker from Myanmar, also known as Burma, said he saw workers pulled into the sea by heavy nets and left for dead. If someone died on a fishing trip, he would be thrown overboard instead of given a proper burial, the worker said.

Another worker said he had been working on a fishing boat for 10 years without being able to accumulate any savings.

“I am barely surviving,” he said.

Verite interviewed workers, boat captains and managers in Thailand. It confirmed the stories of a violent and dangerous seafood industry that exports $7 billion of products each year.

Verite found underage workers were using fake identities to get work. Verite said abuse begins as workers are recruited, hired and employed.

Nestle says it does not do that much business in Southeast Asia. But some seafood in a popular cat food comes from Thailand.

The food giant warns that many of the world’s big food companies run the risk of buying seafood from suppliers who abuse their workers.

Some analysts are impressed with the report.

Mark Lagon is the president of Freedom House, an organization that fights human trafficking and slave labor. He called the report “unusual and exemplary.” He noted that most companies would not look into their business practices or make the information public. They would fear being sued in a lawsuit, he said.

Customers have filed lawsuits to force food companies to reveal where food comes from. For example, consumers who buy food for pets have filed lawsuits against Nestle and other major companies that process food from overseas.

The customers said they would not buy food that was caught by forced labor. The lawsuits aim to reveal the source so consumers can make choices about what they buy.

Magdi Batato is Nestle’s head of operations. He said in a statement that “forced labor and human rights abuses have no place in our supply chain.”

Nestle posted its report online and promised to report its progress each year.

I’m ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Mario Ritter.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English. The story was based on reporting by the Associated Press. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

What would you do about the working conditions in the seafood industry in Thailand? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section or on our Facebook page.


Words in This Story

brand – n. a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name

broker – n. a person who helps other people to reach agreements, to make deals, or to buy and sell property (such as stocks or houses)

contested – n. a struggle or effort to win something

dock – n. a place for loading materials onto ships, trucks, trains, etc.

exemplary – adj. extremely good and deserving to be admired and copied

giant – adj. very large : much larger or more powerful than normal

impress – v. to cause (someone) to feel admiration or interest

lawsuit – n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

recruit – v. to find suitable people and get them to join a company, an organization, the armed forces, etc.

reveal – v. to make something known

retailer – n. a person or business that sells things directly to customers for their own use

traffic – n. the buying and selling of illegal goods or services especially between countries