Blumenthal, Brown Call on Sysco to Ensure No Human Trafficking in Seafood Supply Chain

With slave labor staggeringly present in the seafood industry, Senators call on the world’s largest food distributor to boost transparency and immediately eradicate any potential human trafficking in its supply chain

[WASHINGTON, DC] – With the global demand for inexpensive seafood increasing pressure on suppliers to provide cheap labor and maximize profits, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), both members of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, are urging Sysco Corporation – the world’s largest food distributor – to ensure there is no link to human trafficking in its seafood supply chain. Today, the Senators sent a letter calling on Sysco to boost transparency and immediately eradicate any potential human trafficking in its supply chain. Sysco serves more than 400,000 clients in North America, including facilities on Capitol Hill.

“As the world’s largest food distributor, Sysco has a direct responsibility to prevent consumers from unknowingly purchasing seafood produced with trafficked labor,” the Senators wrote. “Food companies complicit t in human trafficking throughout their seafood supply chain should not be providing food to Congress or any other customers. While this is an industry-wide problem and reform must occur with the collaboration of multiple entities, it is incumbent on Sysco, Restaurant Associates, and Sodexo to take swift and measurable action to combat human trafficking within their own supply chains.”

As co-chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, Blumenthal is a leader in efforts to end human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. Last week, he and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) sent a second letter urging the Administration to address human trafficking in the proposed rule to combat illegal fishing and seafood traceability. In August, Blumenthal also introduced the Business Supply Chain Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act of 2015. This bill seeks to combat human trafficking within business supply chains by requiring certain companies to disclose information describing any measures the company has taken to identify and address conditions of forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, and the worst forms of child labor within the company's supply chains.

Brown has worked to ensure that the United States does not support human trafficking through its trade with other nations. A bill to strengthen trade enforcement and reauthorize the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that was signed into law in February 2016 included Brown’s provision to permanently eliminate an exemption in U.S. law that allowed the import of certain products made with forced or child labor if there was not sufficient supply to meet domestic demand. In July 2015, Brown called on the U.S. Department of State to not upgrade Malaysia’s ranking in its 2015 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, arguing that it was an attempt to allow the nation to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership without first addressing its human trafficking and forced labor issues.  

The full text of today’s letter is available here and below.

Dear Mr. DeLaney:

As members of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we are deeply concerned about the prevalence of human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. The global demand for inexpensive seafood has increased pressure to provide cheap labor and maximize profits, providing ample space for human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. While this is an industry-wide problem and reform must occur with the collaboration of multiple entities, it is incumbent on Sysco, Restaurant Associates, and Sodexo to take swift and measurable action to combat human trafficking within their own supply chains. Sysco is the world’s largest food distributor with the buying power to ensure that consumers do not unknowingly purchase seafood produced with slave labor. As Congress is a customer of Restaurant Associates and Sodexo, operators supplied by Sysco, we request assurances from Sysco that no products associated with human trafficking are being served in Capitol Hill facilities.

First, we ask that Sysco, Restaurant Associates, and Sodexo disclose what policies are currently in place to ensure your full supply chain is free from human trafficking. The complex path that seafood travels – from the time it is harvested to the plate of the consumer – presents numerous opportunities for human trafficking. We have reviewed Sysco’s Code of Conduct and are concerned that it does not provide adequate safeguards against illegal and exploitive seafood supply chains. Under Sysco’s Code of Conduct, Sysco will “not knowingly work with any supplier that uses forced, bonded, indentured, or slave labor.” As a leader in the global market, Sysco has a responsibility to be both proactive and reactive to instances of human trafficking occurring in their supply chain. Simply knowing about human trafficking in the supply chain is insufficient, if Sysco does not have the policies in place to address such instances of abuse. We request detailed information on what additional steps are taken to vet Sysco’s suppliers and ensure they have not participated in or are associated with human trafficking.

Second, we request detailed information on what response measures are taken to address violations of Sysco’s Code of Conduct related to instances of human trafficking in your seafood supply chain. It has come to our attention that Sysco is in partnership with seafood companies who have been accused of perpetuating human trafficking and maintaining deplorable working conditions, such as Thai Union. It is mandated in Sysco’s Code of Conduct that Sysco will “only initiate and renew contractual relationships with suppliers that do not violate basic human rights.” Several major U.S. foodservice companies are supplied by Sysco, thus we are concerned that Thai Union products are in the dining halls of Congress.  We ask that you disclose how you are addressing this issue and whether you have plans to reevaluate your partnership with this company.

As the world’s largest food distributor, Sysco has a direct responsibility to prevent consumers from unknowingly purchasing seafood produced with trafficked labor. Food companies complacent in human trafficking throughout their seafood supply chain should not be providing food to Congress or any other customers. We look forward to learning more about your efforts to eradicate human trafficking from your supply chain.

Sincerely, 

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