Is your dog fed by slaves or maybe your cat – or even you?

New Zealanders and their pets have consumed more than 600 tonnes of seafood sourced from a Thai conglomerate condemned for its use of slave labour.

Some indentured workers have even been locked in cages.

Figures released by the New Zealand Customs Service under the Official Information Act show seafood giant Thai Union has been a consistent exporter to New Zealand.

More than 620,000kg of product – breaded and frozen shrimp, fish fillets, canned tuna and salmon, surimi and material for pet food – entering the country last year.

A Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting went to the Associated Press for its landmark expose of the Thai fishing industry.

The slave-tainted seafood was tracked through to end-consumers, and many products were found to run through Thai Union networks and subsidiaries.

Pulitzer judges said the series had “freed 2000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms”.

Foodstuffs, encompassing Pak’n Save and New World supermarkets, did not directly answer questions on whether it stocked Thai Union product on shelves or in house-brand products.

Instead, a spokeswoman stressed its role in efforts to clean up the sector: “We recognise that there are inherent problems associated with working with the Thai fishing industry.”

Rival operator Progressive Enterprises, which runs Countdown and Woolworths stores, said none of its stock came from either of the Thai Union sites identified by the Associated Press as slave labour camps.

However a spokeswoman said Progressive sourced some material from the company: “Select canned tuna and canned salmon are manufactured at two Thai Union factories, however these factories have been independently audited to ensure they are adhering to our ethical and quality standards. No issues with child labour have been raised as part of those audits.”

Pet food maker Mars said the issue of slave labour was alarming. “The practice is deplorable and goes against everything Mars stands for.”

Mars which sells New Zealand brands Whiskas and Iams catfood, has been named in a class action lawsuit in the United States for failing to disclose forced labour in its supply chains, and is supplied by Thai Union.

Nestle, makers of Purina pet food, said it imported some finished products for sale in New Zealand from Thai Union, but significant progress had been made to “prevent unacceptable practices and human right abuse in the seafood supply chain”.


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News category: New Zealand.

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