Finnish retailers have much to improve if they are to have ethical supply chains in developing countries. That’s according to a British researcher who is facing legal action in Thailand over his revelations.
Andy Hall collected disturbing information for the much-publicized Finnwatch report that came out earlier this year. The non-governmental watchdog claimed that products of Finnish in-house brands such as Rainbow and Pirkka have been manufactured on the back of forced labour and children.
Hall has since been taken to court in Thailand by local juice company Nature Fruit. The Finnwatch report claimed that pineapple concentrate plants violated Thai law and their workers’ human rights.
“They try to attempt to silence me and ware me down to make me tired, to let me waste my time trying to defend some malicious and undefined claim,” said Hall during a visit to Helsinki. “We’re gonna win the case, it’s no problem, but it’s just the waste of my time.”
Amid fierce competition for western bucks, factories in developing countries cut corners with working conditions, safety as well as employees salaries. Andy Hall’s message to Finnish food chains is loud and clear.
“They have to make changes systematically to the way which they supply from Asia and countries which are exploiting workers,” suggested Hall.
After the controversy with juice products, Finnish food retailers Kesko and SOK have said they will keep a closer eye on their supply chains.
However, it’s not easy to improve existing practices, even under the scrutiny of international watchdogs. Though a franchising group may buy from a manufacturer whose practices are transparent, their sub-contractors’ work conditions may in fact be appalling.
The best way to secure work conditions in developing countries, according to Hall, is to help improve workers’ rights.
“The key is to organise the workers themselves,” noted Hall. “They don’t have any voice, they don’t have any awareness about their rights, their obligations. They don’t know how to form trade unions to collectively organise. … But the outside pressure can really assist because in Asia the culture and environment is not conducive to workers organising and defending their rights.”