The THAI government has made remarkable progress on the issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and human trafficking, according to Thai Union Group's president and chief executive, Thiraphong Chansiri.
He said that to be fair to every party, the public should consider whether a report on such issues is "old or new", referring to a Nestle report released this week outlining labour abuse in the Thai fisheries industry.
"Many times they were reports about things in the past. What people should give importance to is the progress, efforts, and determination to tackle this issue," he said.
The Thai government has demonstrated its sincerity and determination to tackle these issues though its issuing of new regulations that directly answer the requirements of the European Union, he added.
A source from the seafood enterprise said Nestle’s report should only affect its own image and sales but not the overall exports of the fishery industry as most Thai businesses had denied any involvement in human trafficking.
The source said local companies of all sizes had continued to oppose forced labour. The individual problems of some companies should not affect the confidence of consumers and trading partners as most Thai firms had proved to their buyers that they followed legal employment policies.
The report by Switzerland-based food giant Nestle SA said impoverished migrant workers in Thailand were sold or lured by false promises and forced to catch and process fish that ended up in Nestle’s supply chains.
In an act of self-policing, the company announced the conclusions of its year-long internal investigation on Monday. The study found that virtually all US and European companies buying seafood from Thailand were exposed to the same risks of abuse in their supply chains.
Nestle SA, among the biggest food companies in the world, launched the investigation in December 2014, after reports from news outlets and non-governmental organisations tied brutal and largely unregulated working conditions to its shrimp, prawns and Purina brand pet foods.
Its findings echo those of The Associated Press in reports this year on slavery in the seafood industry that have resulted in the rescue of more than 2,000 fishermen.
The labourers come from Thailand’s much poorer neighbours Myanmar and Cambodia. Brokers illegally charge them fees to get jobs, trapping them into working on fishing vessels and at ports, mills and seafood farms in Thailand to pay back more money than they can ever earn.
"Sometimes, the net is too heavy and workers get pulled into the water and just disappear. When someone dies, he gets thrown into the water," one Myanmar worker told the non-profit organisation Verite commissioned by Nestle.
"I have been working on this boat for 10 years. I have no savings. I am barely surviving," said another. "Life is very difficult here."
Nestle said it would post the reports online – as well as a detailed year-long solution strategy throughout 2016 – as part of efforts to protect workers. It has promised to impose new requirements on all potential suppliers and train boat owners and captains about human rights, possibly with a demonstration vessel and rewards for altering their practices.
It also plans to bring in outside auditors and assign a high-level Nestle manager to make sure change is under way.
"As we’ve said consistently, forced labour and human-rights abuses have no place in our supply chain," Magdi Batato, Nestle’s executive vice president in charge of operations, said in a written statement.
"Nestle believes that by working with suppliers we can make a positive difference to the sourcing of ingredients."