With encouragement from the Commission for Mission (CFM), Coles, Simplot and Nestle sent representatives to a meeting organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in May.
The Bangkok meeting addressed forced labour and human trafficking in the Thai seafood industry. The meeting was attended by representatives of other companies around the world that source from Thailand, as well asThai companies, Thai Government officials and CFM-funded Burmese migrant worker representatives.
Alys Gagnon of the CFM’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit said ground was being gained as more local and international companies were assisting with making sure their supply chains were free of slave and trafficked labour.
“In the case of Thailand, we found many Burmese migrant workers are conned by brokers and can find themselves on fishing boats run by criminals off the coast of Thailand. They are forced to work up to 20 hours a day, on one meal per day and their passports are confiscated.
“We recently asked JIM supporters to write emails to Whiskas which is a subsidiary of Mars Pet Care. Due to that action, we had a very rapid response.
“Within 12 hours we had the promise of a meeting with the regional vice president out of Singapore, the government relations manager out of Sydney and the director of logistics from Mars Pet Care in Wodonga,” Ms Gagnon said.
Justice workers at the CFM were amazed with the rapid response and are now working with Whiskas to address the risks of forced labour and human trafficking in their supply chain.
“The real point to all of this is that when people sign something on the internet like a pledge or a petition or email sometimes it can feel like ‘slacktivisim’ – that’s the term that some people label it.
“But the truth of it is that big corporations do pay attention to that stuff and they do act on it, of course not all of them but many do.
“This was an example of what looked to be slacktivisim but it’s actually produced a genuine result that will hopefully have a serious impact on the potential for exploitation of workers in Thailand,” she said.
Director of the JIM unit Dr Mark Zirnsak said work funded by the CFM also looked into the labour conditions of migrant workers at a large Thai food processing corporation across a number of factories.
“This investigative work resulted in factory management stopping middle managers from extracting an extra payment for work permits and visas of around $100 each.
“This is a substantial saving for the low paid migrant workers. The company is estimated to have a workforce of 30,000 migrant workers, so the net saving to workers collectively may be as high as $3 million on an investigation that cost $6,000,” Mr Zirnsak said.
In early June, The Guardian newspaper exposed links between slavery on Thai fishing boats and prawn products sold in ALDI and Woolworths supermarkets. Both supermarket chains had not sent representatives to the ILO meeting in Bangkok, despite that request being made by the CFM.
However, Woolworths has had conversations with the ILO in Thailand about ensuring basic labour standards will be met by suppliers located in Thailand, following the issues being raised with it by the CFM.
Following the exposé in The Guardian, the CFM wrote to both supermarket chains asking they take concrete steps to ensure there is no slavery in the supply chain of seafood products they sell and to work to ensure migrant workers in Thailand are able to stand up for their basic rights. Both have agreed to meet to discuss what further steps they could take.