SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A nationwide class of pet food purchasers today filed a lawsuit against Nestlé SA (VTX:NESN) alleging that the pet food manufacturer knowingly supports a system of slave labor and human trafficking to produce its Fancy Feast cat food, while hiding its involvement with human rights violations from the public, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman.
The lawsuit alleges that Nestlé works with a Thai partner, Thai Union Frozen Products PCL, to import more than 28 million pounds of seafood-based pet food for top brands sold in America – some ingredients of which were obtained through slave labor.
Often trafficked from Thailand’s poorer neighbors such as Cambodia and Burma, men and boys are sold to fishing boat captains needing crews to man their fishing boats, according to the complaint. The work is dangerous and exhausting with shifts lasting up to 20 hours a day with little or no pay, with refusal or failure to work to a supervisor’s satisfaction resulting in beatings or even death.
“By hiding this from public view, Nestlé has effectively tricked millions of consumers into supporting and encouraging slave labor on floating prisons,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “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.”
The 29-page complaint filed on Aug. 27, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California alleges that Thai Union oversees canneries, “mothership” fishing vessels, and smaller fishing boats. This structured pyramid of fishing fleets ensures that individual fishing boats operate at great distance from any port, without oversight. Deckhands operating Thai Union’s fishing boats work as modern day slaves, according to a recent New York Times article, “Sea Slaves: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock.”
The nationwide class action seeks to deliver reimbursement to consumers who would not have purchased these products had they been aware of these human rights violations, and also seeks injunctive relief requiring Nestlé to end its deceptive marketing.
The suit accuses Nestlé of violating the California Unfair Competition Law, Consumers Legal Remedies Act and False Advertising Law.
“Instead of true employment, men and boys are sold as slaves by brokers and smugglers to fishing captains in Thai ports in need of labor. Once sold, these men and boys (hereafter ‘Sea Slaves’) enter a modern form of indentured servitude where they are required to work to pay off the price the captains paid to purchase them,” the complaint states. “These Sea Slaves are frequently resold to other fishing boats while out at sea, often at higher prices than their price at port. As a result, Sea Slaves are involuntarily forced into longer and longer periods of servitude as their debt grows and the price of their freedom becomes ever more elusive.”
The complaint also states that despite protection of human rights listed as one of Nestlé’s Corporate Business Principals, the pet food giant has failed to live up to its own ideals. According to the suit, the Bureau of International Labor Affairs of the United States Department of Labor confirms that fish and shrimp from Thailand are likely the product of forced labor.
“Nestlé had the resources to combat this and could have – should have – chosen not to support these egregious human rights violations,” Berman said. “Nestlé has failed to uphold its responsibility to ensure the absence of slave labor in its supply chains – and even worse, Nestlé not only supported these human rights violations, but forced consumers to unknowingly do the same.”
Hagens Berman has been a pioneer in consumer rights litigation, as well as lawsuits filed to ensure human rights for groups of people around the world.
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in nine cities. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.