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Clearing Up Murky Supply Chains

By Jennifer Proctor | July/August 2012 | 22 | 4
Clearing Up Murky  Supply Chains

It’s a tale of intrigue, corruption, guns, and slavery. It spans from the South China Sea to the seafood aisle at your local grocery store. And it’s a true story with supply chains at its heart. A few days ago, I heard a piece on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, and it enabled me to truly comprehend that increasingly global and complex supply chains come with the potential for serious risk to humans.

NPR told the story of Vannak Prum, a Cambodian who was lured to Thailand by the promise of a good job. Instead, a labor broker forced him to work on a Thai fishing boat from 2005 to 2009 in terrible conditions without pay. During this time he was mistreated, starved, and tortured. Prum escaped with another fisherman by jumping off the boat and swimming four kilometers to shore when the boat was anchored off Malaysian Borneo. 

That wasn’t the end of his torment, though. According to his account, Prum then was sold by corrupt officials to a palm oil plantation, where he was forced to work for several months. 

In June, the US State Department honored Prum for his work to raise awareness of human trafficking and labor exploitation in the Thai fishing industry through a series of drawings that recreate his experience.

NPR reports that Thai fishing boats catch about 1 in 5 pounds of mackerel and sardines that end up in the United States. They also catch a good portion of American anchovies. But fishermen in Thailand are increasingly hard to hire—boats can be short up to 60,000 spots each year. Some of these open positions are filled legally by men from other countries, but human traffickers also seize this opportunity. Experts agree it can be difficult to decipher the fishing boats that are operating legally from the ones that aren’t. 

The NPR story quotes Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute: “I don’t think it’s that American fish companies don’t want to go back to the boat level. But what we’ve found is that the supply chain—even the regulators who are in a position to put regulations in place—are having real trouble with it, and the companies are having real trouble with it, as well.” 

Rethinking business requirements
As supply chain professionals, you personally are experiencing the challenges that come with the dynamic global environment in which you practice. Again, considering the fish example, in the case of contamination, it is critical to be able to trace and pull products from the market anywhere in the world. Being able to orchestrate this type of recall is a requirement for supply chain professionals, not an option.

More and more, creating sustainable supply chains also is not optional. Professionals in this field must consider the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. The people part of this equation isn’t merely feel-good policies with no substance. It’s about taking measures to adequately ensure your company and your company’s suppliers respect human rights. That’s the only way human traffickers like the ones who bought and sold Prum will be put out of business.


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