Would it concern you if you knew that Nestlé Purina Fancy Feast pet food was made with the assistance of slave labour in Asia? Would you stop buying the product in America if you knew that young men from Burma and Cambodia were enslaved on ships in the South China Sea working for the Thai fishing fleet supplying ingredients for the product?
Some people say that what we consider to be slave labour in the West is at least work for many people in the East. I’m not justifying slave labour. I detest it. I’m thoroughly against it but slave labour seems to be a symptom of the human condition and life on planet Earth. It happens a lot. It isn’t just pet food. Many products, especially clothes, are made in Asia in countries such as Bangladesh with child labour and slave labour. “Forced labour” on fishing fleets in Asia is systematic and pervasive according Human Rights Watch.
In this instance Nestlé Purina are being sued in a class-action in America because they allegedly knowingly supported slave labour and human trafficking in the production of its Fancy Feast cat food whilst at the same time hiding its involvement.
The claim alleges that Nestlé works with a Thai partner called Thai Union Frozen Products PCL, and through their partnership they imported more than 28 million pounds of seafood-based pet food into America for top brands. Some of the ingredients were made with the use of slave labour the court documents allege.
The New York Times reported on one case of “sea slaves”. It concerns a young man of 30, Lang Long. He’s a Cambodian man who was forced to take a chance when offered the opportunity to work abroad because his family’s rice patch in Cambodia was unable to support the family.
He thought he was going to work on a construction job but when he arrived it quickly became apparent that he was going to be a slave working on ships. He was kept for days in a room at a port about 12 miles south-east of Bangkok. He was herded onto a rotten wooden ship and spent three horrendous years in captivity at sea. He tried to escape but one captain shackled him by the neck to keep him on board whenever another boat came near. The fish his boat caught was “forage fish”; small, cheaply priced fish, which I now understand is shipped to America as pet food.
Slave labour on ships in the South China Sea is very common amongst the Thai fishing fleet. This is because there is a shortage of local labour. The shortfall is filled by migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar.
That’s the background to slave labour in Asia on the seas. Returning to America, a law firm, Hagens Berman, has filed a 28 page application to the US District Court for the Central District of California. I do not know under which law the application is being made. There must be laws in America which prevent American businesses trading with international partners who employ slave labour.
Is this the tip of the iceberg? I am convinced that if Nestlé are in breach of US law then there must be other companies manufacturing pet food employing similar tactics in order to supply the burgeoning market in pet food in America whilst keeping their costs as low as possible.
Are you going to check the next time you buy pet food to see whether the product of your choice has been manufactured in part with the assistance of miserable, abused slaves from Cambodia and Burma working on decrepit fishing ships in the South China Sea? Is it possible to find out? Do people care enough? I’ll put my penny’s worth into the discussion: nothing will change in the long term. I bet that Nestlé Purina are dependent upon slave labour! And what about the fish? We are overfishing generally. Is there a better way?
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