Slavery scandal spurs UK call for stricter control over food supply chains - July 2014

The food industry should follow in the footsteps of the pharmaceutical industry and tighten up its supply chain, says Nick Miller head of FMCG at Crimson and Co. The call follows the discovery that slaves were being used to farm prawns in Thailand that ended up for sale in UK supermarkets.

‘The prawn slavery scandal isn’t the first of its kind to hit the retail industry in recent years – last year we had the debate about the horsemeat scandal bringing to attention the origins of the food we eat and the journey it takes to our home,’ says Nick.

‘This latest news draws on striking parallels and demonstrates that actions must to be taken to improve the transparency of retailers supply chains. In terms of what can be done to address this, retailers need to look at how other sectors manage their supply chain and what lessons can be learnt from this. Largely, the quality assurances given by suppliers are to a satisfactory standard but clearly this scandal demonstrates that more far reaching methods need to take place.’

Nick cites the example of the EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive, passed in 2012, and requiring the pharmaceutical industry to apply European auditing standards to all their manufacturers and the ingredients they use.

‘Similar practices amongst retailers would see them taking a greater responsibility over the source of food, whether it be from a third party supplier or that of one brought directly,’  Nick says. ‘It will require the retailers visiting first-hand the sites they procure their food from and not relying on second hand feedback from local distributors and suppliers.’

The prawn farm scandal came to light following an investigation by a UK national newspaper which found prawns sold in the UK were produced in some cases by those held in slavery. The victims are being forced to farm the prawns in Thailand for no pay for years at a time, under threat of extreme violence.

But Nick said the investigation should act as a wake up call for retailers, as ignoring the consumers’ concerns about forced labour and dangerous working conditions has the potential to put their businesses at risk.

‘Ultimately, retailers are going to be under pressure to act. We’ve already seen the negative effects brought about by the horsemeat scandal as well as the findings of slavery within the apparel industry during production processes. Retailers need to make sure they are giving the right information and are transparent about their supply chains. Consumers are more aware than ever about the journey their food takes, and if the methods employed within this process are deemed unethical, they won’t be afraid to look elsewhere.’ Nick concluded.

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