Blog: Dean BestUS lawsuit puts prawn supply chain back in spotlight

Dean Best | 24 August 2015

A lawsuit tabled in the US has brought fresh attention to the supply chain for prawns, which hit headlines around the world last year amid claims of slavery.

The suit in California alleges Costco knowingly sold prawns from companies including Charoen Pokphand Foods that have sourced from ships using slaves the raw material for feed.

The action comes a year after The Guardian said the Thai fishing sector was seeing human trafficking for forced labour and slavery.

"Thailand's farmed shrimp and fisheries sectors have been under international scrutiny for some time, due to increasing allegations about the exploitation of migrant workers," Candida Barbato, category leader, food and farming, at the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) told just-food in the wake of the publication of The Guardian investigation last June. "Reports have highlighted deplorable practices adopted by local industry to recruit migrant workers from neighbouring countries to work in vessels and the horrific conditions suffered by fishermen."

The investigation found Charoen Pokphand Foods was buying fishmeal from some suppliers that had owned, run or were buying from boats using slaves.

Speaking to Reuters on Friday, the Thai group dismissed the lawsuit. "CPF believes that it has complied with all applicable laws and regulations, and that the complaint is entirely without merit."

In a letter posted to Charoen Pokphand Foods' "stakeholders" and dated 14 August, president and CEO Adirek Sripratak said the company wanted to "reaffirm its commitment to sustainable fisheries and condemnation of all aspects of human trafficking and slavery and the destruction of marine resources".

He set out the standards under which Charoen Pokphand Foods will buy fishmeal and insisted "fishing vessels, fishmeal processing plants and processing plants within the supply chain must be certified by Thailand's Labor Standard or have been audited for social responsibility by an external agency (third party) according to international standards".

In a statement to just-food, a spokesperson for Costco said: "Allegations concerning issues in the Thai seafood industry have been well publicised for over one year. Costco Wholesale has been working with and will continue to work with various stakeholders (including the Thai government, other retailers, and Thai industry) to address the issues that have surfaced. In the meantime, all of our customers know that if they are dissatisfied with any purchase from Costco Wholesale they can return the item for a full refund."

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