Nestle SA was sued over claims that its Fancy Feast cat food contains fish from a Thai supplier that uses slave labor.
The complaint against the Swiss food giant follows one last week accusing Costco Wholesale Corp. of selling farmed shrimp from Thailand, where slave labor and human trafficking in the fishing industry are allegedly widespread.
The four consumers who filed the Nestle case in Los Angeles federal court seek to represent all California buyers of Fancy Feast who wouldn’t have bought the product had they known that the fish was allegedly harvested using forced labor.
“By hiding this from public view, Nestle has effectively tricked millions of consumers into supporting and encouraging slave labor on floating prisons,” Steve Berman, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
“It’s a fact that the thousands of purchasers of its top- selling pet food products would not have bought this brand had they known the truth -– that hundreds of individuals are enslaved, beaten or even murdered in the production of its pet food.”
Nestle said in an e-mailed statement that forced labor “has no place in our supply chain.”
The company declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically, but said it’s working with non-governmental organization Verite to “to identify where and why forced labor and human rights abuses may be taking place” in Thailand and southeast Asia.
Sold as Slaves
The slavery lawsuits follow the publication last month of the U.S. State Department’s annual report examining human trafficking in 188 countries, in which the agency cited concerns about slave labor in Thailand’s fishing industry and faulted the Thai government’s record in fighting exploitation.
Nestle’s Thai supplier gets its fish from trawlers whose crews are often men and boys who have been trafficked from Myanmar and Cambodia, according to Thursday’s complaint. They are sold as slaves by brokers and smugglers to fishing captains in Thai ports and frequently resold out at sea, the consumers said.
In 2001, Nestle and other top chocolate makers and cocoa processors agreed to a plan to investigate and end child slave- labor practices on farms in West Africa that supplied them with cocoa. The industry collaboration followed media reports that boys as young as 11 were sold or tricked into slavery to harvest cocoa beans on some of the Ivory Coast’s 600,000 farms.
By 2010, following eight years of civil war in the Ivory Coast, the government moved to curb exploitation in the cocoa industry by prosecuting traffickers of children.
When a study commissioned by Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestle found numerous violations of its internal work rules in 2012 and urged more attention to combating child labor in the Ivory Coast cocoa industry, Nestle’s head of operations said the use of child labor “goes against everything we stand for.” The company said the complexity of the problem meant it would take years to solve.
The case is Barber v. Nestle USA Inc., 15-cv-01364, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
–With assistance from Corinne Gretler in Zurich and Hugo Miller in Geneva.