Slave Labor Makes Purina Cat Food, Class Says

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Nestle Purina profits from slave labor to make its Fancy Feast cat food with fish, consumers claim in a federal class action.
     The lawsuit cites a July 27 New York Times report, “Sea Slaves: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock,” on men and boys sold into slavery in Southeast Asia to trawl for fish off Thailand.
     Men who escaped from the fishing boats after spending up to three years at sea told the Times of appalling conditions: being forced to work up to 20 hours a day for little or no pay, and being beaten or murdered if they are disobedient or try to escape.
     Lead plaintiff Melanie Barber claims that Nestle Purina’s Fancy Feast cat food uses fish produced by the forced labor.
     The supply chain starts on boats manned by slaves, which send the fish to “motherships,” which deliver it to canning factories. Nestle partners with Thai Union Frozen Products, which imports the pet food into the United States, according to the complaint. The Thai company is not a defendant in the Aug. 27 complaint.
     “In summary, although Nestle recognizes that the use of slave labor in its supply chain is wrong and its corporate business principles explicitly forbid slave labor by its suppliers, it materially omits to disclose to consumers purchasing Fancy Feast the likelihood that slave labor was used to source the seafood making up the product,” the lawsuit states.
     The consumers’ attorney Steve Berman told Bloomberg news service that Nestle “effectively tricked millions of consumers into supporting and encouraging slave labor on floating prisons.”
     “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,” Berman said.
     Nestle told Bloomberg that forced labor “has no place in our supply chain” but declined to go into the specifics of the complaint.
     Nestle said it is working with human rights group Verite “to identify where and why forced labor and human rights abuses may be taking place.”
     Relying heavily on the Times’ article, the lawsuit says the operators of the “floating prisons” buy and sell the men or boys, often trafficked from Cambodia or Burma, from boat to boat. Workers live on a bowl of rice a day and “unwanted fish,” the complaint states.
     “When water runs low, sea slaves often suck the unsanitary and foul-tasting ice chips used to freeze fish. Sleeping in two-hour shifts, quarters are cramped, hot and filled with rodents and other vermin. The boats’ engines operate constantly, emanating a deafening noise and periodically spewing black clouds of toxic fumes into the sleeping quarters,” the lawsuit states.
     Boat captains beat slaves who try to escape, keeping them in solitary confinement in “foul smelling fishing holds,” and shackling them by the neck. Officers and captains have beheaded workers for insubordination, according to the lawsuit.
     The complaint names 11 types of Purina cat food allegedly made with fish derived from slave labor.
     The plaintiffs seek class certification, restitution, an injunction, damages for consumer law violations, unfair and deceptive trade and false advertising, and costs of suit.
     They are represented by Elaine Byszewski with Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, of Pasadena.
     Named as defendants are Nestle USA, a Delaware corporation, and Nestle Purina Petcare, a Missouri corporation.
     Nestle Purina Petcare is the largest pet food company in the United States, controlling about one-third of the market, and the second-largest in the world. It had 1,800 employees in the St. Louis area alone in 2012, and $6.4 billion in worldwide revenue, the company told industry publications that year.

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