Photo: Jonas Gratzer

Swedish buyers have prioritised product quality over working conditions. The report “Trapped in the Kitchen of the World” shows that migrant workers within the poultry industry in Thailand are being exploited and caught in debt bondage.

The global consumption of chicken is increasing more rapidly than any other meat product. Sweden is following suit and Thailand is the country, after Denmark, from which Sweden imports the most processed poultry meat. The products reach Swedish consumers through supermarkets, restaurants and cafeterias in public places such as schools and hospitals.

For the report “Trapped in the Kitchen of the World”, Swedwatch has interviewed 98 migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar, working at six chicken factories in Thailand. The factories export to Sweden and other EU countries and workers testify to an environment in which rights are infringed upon and where they are being exploited by employers and recruitment agents on a daily basis. Child labour at ages below 15 years is reported by interviewed workers at three of the factories. The situation resembles the alarming reports from the Thai fishing industry where crews are treated as slaves.

At the other end of the supply chain are the Swedish importers and procurers. Swedwatch interviewed six of the largest importers and wholesalers of processed chicken (including Menigo, Martin & Servera, and Findus), which revealed a lack of analysis and understanding of the violations and abuses that migrant workers are subjected to. Codes of conduct exist but are not followed up on. Public procurers at county councils and municipalities lack procedures to set and follow up social criteria in purchases of chicken meat products.

The report contains 18 recommendations, highlighting for example the need for importers and wholesalers to conduct risk analyses in a transparent fashion, ensuring that sub-suppliers comply with national legislation (at a minimum), as well as increase third party audits. Furthermore, foods such as chicken meat should be regarded and treated as a risk category by public procurers and politicians, not only concerning animal welfare and food security but also in relation to working conditions.

The report also highlights that the EU directive on country-of-origin labelling does not include processed products, thus chicken from Thailand which may have been processed in for example Denmark, can be labelled with Denmark as the country of origin. This indicates that there is a disparity in the figures on how much Thai chicken meat is actually consumed in Sweden every year.

“Trapped in the Kitchen of the World” has been developed in collaboration with Finnwatch in Finland and they have conducted a similar investigation regarding the Finnish importers and wholesalers. The report also includes a chapter on chicken meat products produced under the own brands (private labels) of supermarkets, as part of a wider EU project.