The world’s largest full-service restaurant corporation in the world, Olive Garden parent company Darden Restaurants Inc., is trying to shirk accountability for investigating slavery and human rights abuses in their seafood supply chain.
An AP investigation recently revealed connections to slave labor and human rights violations throughout the seafood supply chain , and specifically at Thai Union, a company that Darden has been purchasing seafood from for years. Moreover, last year, the US State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking  and a Guardian report on human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain was released 9 months ago .
After ROC released a statement  pointing out that one of the companies named in the AP investigation, Thai Union, is one of Darden’s top seafood suppliers, Darden offered an explanation that was heavy on claims, not so much on proof .
Darden said that Thai Union recently dropped the supplier named in the AP investigation and that seafood sourced from the supplier in question was contained solely within the pet food production component of Thai Union’s operations. However, Thai Union and Darden have yet to produce independently verifiable evidence that the slavery and human rights abuses documented in the AP investigation are restricted solely to the pet food segment of Thai Union’s operations. Remember it took AP investigators to uncover human rights abuses in Thai Union’s seafood operations, not Thai Union itself.
Following these revelations, neither company has been forthcoming with the steps it has taken to create the internal procedures necessary to identify and screen out seafood sourced from enslaved labor.
Does Darden expect the public to accept that its seafood supply is free of forced labor simply because Thai Union, who has a vested financial interest in keeping Darden as a customer, claims to have dropped a single offending supplier?
Without the internal procedures to identify the abuses in the first place, how can Thai Union or Darden credibly reassure Darden’s customers about the extent of the problem within their supply chain?
Recently taken over by New York hedge-fund Starboard Value last year, Darden seems to have prioritized debates about breadsticks, salted water, and maximizing profit for shareholders through typical Wall Street real estate sale/lease-back schemes over labor concerns, even from its own employees.
Leading up to the Starboard takeover, current Darden employees of the Dignity At Darden campaign, concerned with the future of the company and Starboard’s proposals to ‘cut labor costs’ — laying off employees, increasing part-time scheduling, possible franchising, and passing more work onto subminimum wage employees — launched a petition asking to meet with Starboard’s leadership over Darden’s problematic labor practices, including the company’s elimination of auto-gratuities on large parties, unpredictable scheduling, and wages unable to sustain a family. Although the petition quickly garnered thousands of signatures from current employees, neither Starboard Value nor Darden’s management met with Darden employees .
As the largest-full service restaurant corporation in the world, what Darden does — or doesn’t do — affects more than the entire restaurant industry, but our national economy, and as the AP investigation demonstrates, the global food system.
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