For Immediate Release: March 27, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte, maria@rocunited.org, 720-352-6153

Slavery and Human Rights Abuses Connected to Top Darden Seafood Supplier, Thai Union Frozen Products

AP Investigation Reveals Olive Garden Parent Company Darden Restaurants Inc., the World’s Largest Full-Service Restaurant Corporation, Sourced Tons of Seafood Possibly Connected to Slave Labor

This week, The Associated Press released results of an investigation into slavery on Southeast Asian fishing trawlers that supply major restaurants, supermarkets, seafood companies throughout the United States.

Thai Union, a leading seafood supplier named in the investigation, supplies Darden Restaurants Inc. (parent company to Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s and Yard House) with a significant amount of its seafood.

According to US Customs Data, Darden has received more than 250 metric tons of frozen shrimp from Thai Union since July 2014. Darden is a long-time customer of Thai Union, even naming it a ‘William B. Darden Distinguished Supplier,’ its top award for vendor excellence, and distinguishing it as their number one vendor in their quality and food safety program with their ‘Gold Award.’

Details from the AP investigation reveal that workers were paid little or nothing while being forced to work 20 – 22 hour shifts with no days off.  They also said they were regularly beaten.

The AP report builds on a Guardian investigation released last June, which found that ships used to catch fish, which were then used to feed farmed prawns, were crewed by Burmese slaves who were sometimes beaten or killed and tossed overboard.

“It’s telling that as Starboard Value took control over Darden’s board in October, the Guardian investigation being out for a few months at this point, Darden didn’t do anything to look into possible slavery and human rights abuses in their own seafood supply chain, and instead turned a blind eye, focused aggressively on profit, and deployed a typical hedge-fund sale-leaseback strategy to leverage the company’s real estate portfolio,” said Lauren Jacobs, National Organizing Director at Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. “It’s unconscionable that any company, let alone a huge restaurant company that literally serves millions of meals every year, touts a sustainability program–specifically a ‘seafood stewardship’ program–would continue to serve their customers seafood knowing that it may very well be connected to slave labor.”

In October of 2014, Starboard Value, an activist hedge fund and Darden shareholder, successfully replaced all 12 of Darden’s board members. Among its proposals to increase shareholder value were several labor cost cuts to Olive Garden, including laying off employees, increasing part-time scheduling, possible franchising, and passing more work onto subminimum wage employees. Leading up to the takeover current Darden employees of the Dignity At Darden campaign, concerned with the future of the company launched a petition asking to meet with Starboard’s leadership, calling attention to problematic labor practices, including the company’s elimination of auto-gratuities on large parties, unpredictable scheduling, and wages unable to sustain a family. Neither Starboard Value nor Darden’s management met with Darden employees.

“As a leading member of the National Restaurant Association, Darden has lobbied aggressively against wage increases and even paid sick day policies, sacrificing public health and the well-being of their employees to profit,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder/co-director of ROC United and Director of Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley. “If a company with the scope and influence of Darden lets ‘unlocking shareholder value’ steamroll even looking into massive human rights violations like connections to slavery, we should all be deeply concerned for the future of the entire restaurant industry.”

The Dignity At Darden campaign is a national community of current Darden restaurant workers and their supporters who agree that through raising industry standards at Darden, the largest full-service restaurant company in the word, the entire restaurant industry will be forced to improve their labor practices and provide livable wages.

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to over 13,000 worker-members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.