Carrefour suspends purchasing from CP Foods
Thailand’s ambassador to the United States remains confident that his government is getting better at controlling human trafficking in its fishing industry, despite a major French retailer suspending purchases today from Thai shrimp supplier CP Foods after a British newspaper found evidence of trafficking in CP’s supply chain.
Retailer Carrefour announced today that it was suspending all direct and indirect purchasing from CP Foods “as a precautionary measure.” Until now, CP, one of the world’s largest shrimp producers, was a major source of shrimp for Carrefour.
The Guardian published an article this week with the results of its investigation into human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry. The newspaper found evidence that migrant workers were being lured onto fishing boats, where they were forced to work under deplorable conditions. Those who protested, the paper found, were beaten and in extreme cases murdered on board.
This is not the first time such allegations have come to light. Reports have been surfacing for several years now, most recently from the NGO Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), but the Guardian story is the first to actually name companies that might be contributing to the problem. The newspaper named CP Foods as a company that is using human trafficking, and pointed out a number of high-profile CP customers elsewhere in the world, including Carrefour, Walmart and Tesco.
Carrefour, in a short statement on its website, said it “strongly condemns, if proven true, the allegations reported by The Guardian,” and said it will not purchase from CP “until light has been shed on the situation.”
The retailer said it conducted a “social audit” of CP’s processing plant in July 2013, “as it has done regularly,” and found “nothing abnormal at the time.”
The EJF praised Carrefour for its action, but cautioned that a boycott of a single supplier will not solve a problem that the EJF said is systematic throughout the Thai fishing industry.
“Carrefour’s announcement is welcome news and shows that European retailers are finally waking up to the severity of the abuse in Thailand’s seafood industry,” said Steve Trent, EJF’s executive director. “However, CP is just one part of a problem that plagues the entire sector. All companies sourcing seafood from Thailand should be under no illusions that they are selling products tainted by slavery.”
The Guardian story emerged just as the U.S. State Department is preparing to release its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries with known problems with human trafficking. Thailand has been labeled “Tier 2 watch” for four years in a row. Under the department’s own rules, it needs to either upgrade Thailand to Tier 2 or downgrade it to Tier 3 in its newest report, expected to come out next week. Nations classified as Tier 3 — the lowest grade possible — are described as having a significant problem with trafficking that they have done little to correct.
Despite the recent news, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, Thailand’s ambassador to the United States, said his country’s authorities have met and exceeded the State Department’s criteria for upgrading Thailand’s status.
"Thailand's demonstrated awareness, cooperation and progress in combating human trafficking in 2013 clearly exceeds the U.S. State Department's criteria for an upgrade on the 2014 TIP Report," the ambassador said.
The ambassador noted that in 2013, there have been twice as many trafficking investigations compared to 2012, five times as many prosecutions and more than four times as many convictions. The ambassador also noted that his country is investigating allegations of corruption, too, punishing 33 police officers and five “high-ranking police officials.”