Nestlé, once again, is embroiled in controversy, as the company recently went public with the admission that slave labor had been found in the multinational company’s supply chain in Thailand.
The company said it was moving into a new era of self-policing of its supply by independently disclosing the use of slavery in the supply chain of its Fancy Feast catfood brand after a year-long investigation, according to The Guardian.
“As we’ve said consistently, forced labour and human rights abuses have no place in our supply chain,” said Magdi Batato, Nestlé’s executive vice-president in charge of operations, in a written statement. “Nestlé believes that by working with suppliers we can make a positive difference to the sourcing of ingredients.”
Nick Grono, CEO of the Freedom Fund, a non-profit extremely active in anti-trafficking activities in Thailand, considers the self-admission by Nestlé to be a potentially paradigm shifting event that could force a shift in the acceptable business practices in regards to global supply chain accountability, but others see it as a strategic ploy.
“Nestlé’s decision to conduct this investigation is to be applauded,” he says. “If you’ve got one of the biggest brands in the world proactively coming out and admitting that they have found slavery in their business operations, then it’s potentially a huge game-changer and could lead to real and sustained change in how supply chains are managed.”
Others, such as Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen UK, an anti-trafficking charity advocating for more supply chain accountability remain extremely skeptical of Nestlé’s actions and see the self-reporting as a simple tactic being used to usurp pending litigation against more profitable sectors of its business.
“For me there is a big issue with one part of Nestlé saying, ‘OK we have been dragged along with everyone else to face the issue of slavery in Thailand and so let’s take the initiative and do something about it’, and at the same time fighting tooth and nail through the courts to avoid charges of child slavery in its core operations in the Ivory Coast,” Wallis told The Guardian.
“It’s easy to own up to something that has already been uncovered,” he said. “By the time Nestlé owned up to slavery in the Thai seafood industry it was accepted knowledge. It’ll be a brave new world when companies are actually doing the real investigation to probe into part of their supply chains that have remained outside the public domain.”
According to report by The Guardian:
There is also a growing legal imperative for many large multinationals to start seriously engaging with labour abuses in their business operations. Legislation in both the US and the UK requires larger companies to publish annual reports on their efforts to keep their businesses slavery-free.
The success of the 2010 California Transparency in Supply Chains Act has been patchy but it has spawned a series of civil litigation suits, with consumers or workers using the legislation to launch legal actions against companies they accuse of making misleading public statements on their anti-slavery efforts
Nestlé is one of the companies facing legal action in the US. Last week the company, along with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, failed in its bid to get the US Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to hold them liable for the alleged use of child slaves in cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast.
This puts the company in the unfortunate position of disclosing slavery in one part of its operations, while at the same time fighting through the courts to fend off accusations that it exists in another – more profitable – part of its business.
Evidence of Nestlé’s lack of follow through on self-regulation can be clearly seen in the Engel-Harkin (aka the Cocoa Protocol), in which it promised to self-regulate and ultimately end child slave labor in their supply chain — signed in 2001.
According to an article by The Daily Beast:
Eight companies—including Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey—were signatories of the massive accord, pledging $2 million to investigate the labor practices and eliminate the “Worst Forms of Child Labor,” the official term from the International Labor Organization, by 2005. When the July 2005 deadline arrived with the industries yet to make major changes, an extension was granted until 2008.
When the next deadline came and went, a new proposal arose. By 2010, the companies basically started anew with a treaty called The Declaration of Joint Action to Support Implementation of the Harkin-Engel Protocol. This document pledges to reduce the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent across the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Ivory Coast by 2020.
Those that have followed the use of slave labor in the supply chain of theses large multinational corporations understand that these companies consistently claim they will self regulate and yet the use of child slave labor within the cocoa industry has increased dramatically.
A report from the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University, and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, found the number of children working in the cocoa industry in 2013-14 increased 51 percent to 1.4 million, compared to the last report in 2008-09.
While it feels like a victory that the company has acknowledged the use of slave labor in its Thailand supply chain, the “victory “ is hollow, as Nestle continues to refuse to acknowledge the validity of the claims of child slave laborers that have filed suit in U.S. Federal Court – negating any claims of acting in a moral and socially conscious manner.
The good news is that every dollar you spend buying products from Nestlé’s competition, who employ ethics and fairness in their businesses, is a vote to end this madness. Don’t want to support slavery? Stop buying products from companies who use slaves.
Below is a short list of popular Nestlé products. For the full list of their more than 2,000 brands, you can use this link at wikipedia.
Jay Syrmopoulos is a political analyst, free thinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has been published on Ben Swann’s Truth in Media, Truth-Out, Raw Story, MintPress News, as well as many other sites. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.