June 6, 2017 / 4:36 PM / 2 months ago

UK supermarket pulls corned beef off shelves due slavery fears

LONDON, June 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A top British supermarket has pulled one of its corned beef brands off the shelves after a newspaper investigation found it might contain meat linked to slave labour on farms in Brazil.

The Guardian newspaper said meat processing company JBS, which supplies beef to several leading UK food stores, had previously bought cattle from a farm in northern Brazil which is being investigated for using workers as modern-day slaves.

JBS's headquarters in Brazil and its UK office would not immediately comment on the report but the Guardian quoted the company as saying it had stopped buying from the farm on discovering a possible link to labour abuses.

Upmarket British food store Waitrose told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it was pulling one of its three own brand corned beef products while it investigated.

"While we have found no such concerns in our own supply chain ... we are taking these allegations seriously so have stopped sourcing any of our corned beef from there (JBS) while we investigate fully," the supermarket said in a statement.

JBS produce is also used in tinned corned beef sold by Marks & Spencer, Co-Op, Sainsbury's, Lidl and Princes, according to the Guardian, which added that some of these stores were now also investigating and examining their supply chains.

Corned beef, a salt-cured product widely used during both world wars when fresh meat was rationed, remains popular in Britain where it is commonly used in sandwiches.

The newspaper said documents showed JBS paid 2 million pounds ($2.58 million) between 2013 and 2016 for cattle reared on a farm in the state of Para where prosecutors say workers were being subjected to modern slavery.

Brazilian police reportedly discovered men forced to live in inhumane and degrading conditions, with no shelter, toilets or drinking water. Prosecutors believe the workers were in debt bondage, the Guardian said.

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated about 46 million people are in some form of modern slavery - forced into manual labour, trafficked to brothels, victims of debt bondage or born into servitude - with about 161,000 people in Brazil enslaved.

JBS told the paper the farm was not included in the government's official "blacklist" of companies known to use slave labour.

"As soon as JBS became aware of irregularities in the ... farm's operations in 2016, all livestock purchases from the (farm) were immediately stopped," the Guardian quoted JBS as saying.

"JBS does not buy cattle from any farms which have any association with slave labour, as listed by the Brazilian government." ($1 = 0.7757 pounds) ($1 = 3.2807 reais) (Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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