In an internal audit aimed analysing vendors from whom it sources its seafood Nestle has discovered that some of those suppliers in Thailand used labor that can be fairly classified as slave labor. The practice in use is employment of economically disadvantaged migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar. These migrants are trafficked into Thailand under falsely promised job opportunities, or hired in Thailand to work under conditions where they effectively have virtually no right to negotiate and contest their employment conditions due to their limited resources and likely questionable rights under the local law.
The scenario is far from unique. It is common in many areas of the world. It is definitely common in agriculture as work is often very physically demanding, requires little formal education or training and tends to be seasonal.
In real day-to-day terms, it translates into basically unlimited work hours, pay that may or may not come and sometimes even lack of ability to call it quits and walk off the job. In the situation Nestle was investigating, it is reasonable to imagine that people employed in seafood industry in Thailand often were literally confined to their place of employment - a fishing boat. It is hardly exaggeratory to compare these employment conditions to the slavery of yore.
Regardless of Nestle's potential failings in allowing things to get to this state I believe they deserve credit for investigating the situation and going public with these very unflattering discoveries. However, the bigger question is, what to do about this situation? And this is a very difficult question.
It is possible that in many parts of the world it is virtually impossible to find any business involved in certain industries: shipping, agriculture, food production, fishing - that is not involved in some sort of exploitation. Hence being selective with vendors, while advisable in general, may not be a solution. The solution may be in a paradigm shift - in creating an economic model where these sorts of exploitation will no longer be profitable or easily practiced. And in this regard, technologies like cryptocurrencies, and specifically "smart contracts" come to mind. Obviously, governmental transparency would also have a major role to play in improving the situation.
How well new tech can help address slavery and labor exploitation remains to be seen. For now, however, slavery is clearly not only a historical phenomena but also very much part of our current reality.
Nestlé admits slavery and coercion used in catching its seafood
Martha Mendoza, The Associated Press, 23 November 2019
Modern Day 'Slavery' In Agriculture, And What's Being Done To Address It
Cathy Huyghe, Forbes, 14 April 2017