Retailers and restaurants respond to latest AP slave labor report

Published on
December 14, 2015

Immediately following the release of an investigative report conducted by the Associated Press that linked the Thai Union Group to forced labor in Thailand once again, many of America’s leading retailers and seafood restaurant chains who were implicated in the report have denied their involvement in Thai slave labor.

The AP report stated that Thai Union allegedly supplied shrimp from plants linked to forced and child labor to Walmart, Whole Foods Market, Kroger, Safeway, Red Lobster and other U.S. restaurant and retail chains. The shrimp also supposedly made its way into the supply chains of popular U.S. brands including Beaver Street’s Sea Best, Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, according to the AP.

Retailers like Whole Foods, however, are confident that the shrimp supplied to their stores did not originate from the illicit processing facilities detailed by the AP report.

“We are confident that Thai Union shrimp supplied to Whole Foods Market did not come from an illicit processing facility, nor do we purchase any shrimp from peeling shed facilities,” a Whole Foods’ spokesperson told SeafoodSource. Whole Foods is also “encouraged by Thai Union’s decision to swiftly bring all shrimp processing in-house in an effort to ensure transparency and full oversight of their shrimp processing, and we urge the government of Thailand to regulate and enforce issues of labor and human rights within their country.”

Red Lobster shares a similar confidence, having been assured by Thai Union that its shrimp bears no association with the abusive pre-processing facilities.

“We have investigated the claims in the Associated Press story, and we are confident, based on our findings and assurances from Thai Union, that our seafood supply was not associated with the abusive pre-processing facilities,” according to a Red Lobster statement provided to SeafoodSource. Further, the Red Lobster Code of Conduct “clearly states our position on the importance of upholding human rights, social welfare and fair labor practices and our commitment to taking swift and appropriate action if this code is violated. We do not tolerate any supplier or business partner who violates the law, compromises our standards or participates in social welfare abuses.”

While Walmart did not deny that it received shrimp from the factories in question, executives are “horrified” by the reported abusive practices.

“We are aware of the Associated Press story, and we were horrified by the conditions and treatment of workers the reporters uncovered. The ethical recruitment and treatment of workers in the industry as a whole is extremely important to us, which is why we are working hard to form coalitions and partnerships that will help lead to sustainable improvements in the industry,” Marilee McInnis with international corporate affairs and global communication for Walmart, said in a statement emailed to SeafoodSource.

“Walmart believes workers should be treated with respect and dignity throughout the global supply chain. We are concerned about the ethical recruitment and treatment of workers in the entire fishing industry, especially in Southeast Asia, so we have been actively engaged in working with NGOs, private sector companies, suppliers and government to find solutions. Our Standard for Suppliers Manual makes clear our fundamental expectations for voluntary labor, including certification by suppliers that they have implemented procedures to manage the materials, including all labor related processes, incorporated into their products to comply with laws on slavery and human trafficking,” McInnis added.

Whole Foods, likewise, has “zero tolerance for human rights abuses.”

“At the first reports of labor issues within the Thai seafood industry, we investigated our own supply chain – going beyond our existing third-party audits of processing facilities by conducting our own on-site inspections of Thai Union facilities. We also joined with other seafood companies to sign letters supporting H.R. 774, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 which would strengthen the U.S. role in combating illegal foreign fishing,” the Whole Foods spokesperson said.

Read more on the AP report allegations here.

Contributing Editor

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