Combining global and local forces in a high-risk context
In June 2014, the Guardian published a shocking, in-depth investigation that spelled out in disturbing detail allegations of Asian slave labor in the production of shrimp for consumption in the United States and the United Kingdom.
The article outlined “horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some [of the victims of forced labor] were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.”
In quick response to the exposé and the serious concerns it raised, Chareon Pokphand Foods (CPF) and Costco, both of which were implicated in the investigation, came together to establish the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force in July 2014.
Following an expansion of its mandate and membership, the initiative was renamed the Seafood Task Force in October 2016. It is the first industry-led, multi-stakeholder coalition of retailers, processors, producers, governments and NGOs working to eradicate forced labor in the US$7 billion seafood supply chain in Thailand.
In addition to its founding member companies, the task force now boasts leadership and involvement from major brands around the globe that are linked to the Thai seafood industry, including Mars Petcare, Nestlé, Target and Walmart. It also involves key Thai producers and processors, as well as expert NGOs such as Verité and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which participate via the initiative’s External Stakeholder Advisory (ESA) Committee.
"Forced labor is one of our identified and prioritized salient human rights issues. As such, we’re taking a deep dive to find where and how incidents of forced labor might occur in our supply chain. This learning feeds into our action-focused roadmap to address potential risks and any identified issues, and involves key international collaborations such as the Seafood Task Force.
Our responsible sourcing strategy builds upon an understanding that in order to achieve real sector-wide supply chain transformation, we must work together collectively, as companies and organizations, to complement and build upon individual actions.”
While results of the Task Force’s ongoing work need to be explicitly tracked and disclosed, the initiative is bringing together the key players in the Thai seafood supply chain in a new and innovative way.
Thus far, the Task Force’s work has focused on four main activities:
With the major components of its governance systems now in place and eight issue-specific working groups underway, the initiative plans to next turn its efforts to the development of data management resources that may facilitate remediation, corrective action and anonymized reporting.
In the longer term, the Task Force hopes to expand the scope of its efforts to other key jurisdictions outside of Thailand.
“The Seafood Task Force is the first major initiative to deal with forced labor in the Thai seafood market. Trying to improve life in a factory is one thing, but on ships, it’s a whole different world entirely. The challenges are really great and the conditions are really bad.
The Task Force has created specific processes that have aimed to see what’s happening at sea – where vessels are going and what labor conditions on those vessels look like. A lot of this is completely new. But an industry-wide approach is essential in addressing this systemic issue.”