Aldi South Group

    U.S., Germany


    March 8 - 19, 2024
    3 inquiries
    3 replies

    Email sent to three media contacts for Aldi South Group.

    The email said: "For several months, we have been conducting an investigation of the shrimp company, Choice Canning, which has supplied shrimp to Aldi in the U.S. and Germany, including under Aldi’s own brands 'Fremont Fish Market' and 'Specially Selected'. Part of that investigation has involved an ongoing conversation with a former Choice Canning employee who managed a plant for the company in Andhra Pradesh, India. We began talking while they were still on staff with Choice Canning and we have continued the dialogue since they stepped down from their position with the company. This person has filed a whistleblower complaint to U.S. federal authorities.

    Through them and other channels, we have collected a variety of materials concerning Choice Canning, particularly regarding the company’s operations in Andhra Pradesh. These materials include: internal emails, WhatsApp messages, voice memos from senior management, security footage, audio recordings of meetings of Choice Canning staff, invoices from employment contractors, documentation produced by auditors for internal and external use, among other items. We have conducted an intensive review of all those materials. We have also interviewed current and former workers from the plant. We have also corroborated various findings using other documentation (including local news reports from Andhra Pradesh and industry analysis by non-governmental organizations), interviews with experts (such as shrimp industry groups and industry lawyers), and analysis of hundreds of videos taken in and around the Amalapuram plant. We also dispatched a videographer to the plant to visit one of the offsite peeling sheds and to inspect conditions at the Amalapuram compound.

    Our investigation found evidence of:

    Document falsification by Choice Canning management to mislead auditors about where it sources shrimp and the true count of employees on-site;

    Decisions by senior Choice Canning management to ship to customers in the U.S. - including Aldi - shrimp that it knows to be antibiotic-positive;

    Contradictory documentation by SGS auditors, with SGS reports produced for Choice Canning’s internal use raising concerns about unsanitary production conditions, while SGS reports for external review raised no such issues and instead supported BRCGS and BAP certification of Choice Canning;

    Senior Choice Canning management approving the underpayment of workers, and complaints to local police by workers who did not receive payment or who received payment long after it was due;

    Choice Canning staff complaints about inadequate living conditions on-site, including worker dorms without proper bedding, or with unhygienic canteen food;

    Workers being prevented from leaving the site of their own volition;

    Choice Canning’s ongoing use of unsanitary off-site peeling sheds which it concealed from auditors;

    Understatement of the number of workers based at the plant and the temporary relocation of some of those workers when auditors visited so as to give a false picture;

    Repeated complaints from people living near Choice’s Amalapuram plant of pollution causing health problems in the community;

    “Gift” payments to local officials that some might view as bribes.

    Questions we have for Aldi:

    1. While we understand that you might not be aware of any of the above issues, does Aldi have any comment or statement to make in response to this email?
    2. We are aware that an audit was recently conducted specifically for Aldi at Choice Canning’s facilities in Andhra Pradesh. Who carried out the audit? What was the outcome of this audit?
    3. Can you confirm if the auditors were informed by Choice Canning of the use of off-site peeling sheds? Did the Aldi audit flag any concerns regarding Choice Canning workers related to living conditions, wages, food, and captivity?
    4. Did the Aldi audit raise any concerns over how the plant would meet production targets with regards to the number of workers Choice Canning says officially work at the plant on any given day?
    5. Was Aldi made aware that Choice Canning is supplied by farms that are not included in the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) approved list? Please let us know your answers to these questions by close of business on March 14, 2024. Please also note that we will need for all our interactions to remain on record and in writing."

    Paulina Burghardt of communications company Rosam.Grünberger.Jarosch & Partner replied with a statement from Aldi South Group: "We ask for your understanding that we will need more time to respond and will get back to you as soon as possible."

    A subsequent email was sent to Aldi, saying: "The piece we are preparing to publish, which we believe to be in the public interest, will mention Aldi briefly as one of Choice Canning’s clients, but in no way accuses the company or any of its officers of doing anything wrong.

    We are writing, therefore, to alert Aldi to matters uncovered by the investigation prior to publication of our article, and to offer the firm the opportunity to comment should they wish to.

    The contexts in which Aldi is mentioned in the piece are as follows:

    1. As company officials will be aware, on 5th March 2024 auditors carried out an inspection of the Choice Canning plant in Amalapuram, India on behalf of Aldi. The article will report that steps were taken by staff at Choice Canning to deliberately hide a proportion of the workforce from the inspectors by keeping them off-site.
    2. The article will also report the content of WhatsApp messages exchanged between staff at Choice Canning in February 2024 which suggest that a senior executive authorised the shipment of shrimp that contained antibiotic. We have seen an exchange which took place on 12th February 2024 in which the then manager of the Amalapuram plant said “‘225 cases of Aldi rtnc (raw, tail-on, no-chemical shrimp) are Oscar” and the manager replied “Ship it”. We have been told by the then manager that ‘Oscar’ was a codeword used at Choice Canning to describe shrimp that had tested positive for antibiotics and seen internal messages in which it seems to be used in this sense. (Choice Canning denies the word had this meaning.)

    The article will also highlight some concerns about the plant at Amalapuram which include: Workers being paid less than the minimum wage. Workers living on the site not being allowed to leave without permission. Internal staff communications which suggest the plant is claiming all the hatcheries it buys from are Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP)-certified, whereas in fact they are not. The alleged use of unaudited off-site peeling sheds. WhatsApp messages appearing to demonstrate that authorisation was given to ship shrimp that had tested positive for antibiotics on more on one occasion.

    As I said, the piece will cast no blame on Aldi. But we wanted to give you the opportunity to provide a response or comments which we will consider for inclusion in the piece. Please reply by 1pm ET on Monday March 18 if you would like us to do this."

    Paulina Burghardt of communications company Rosam.Grünberger.Jarosch & Partner replied: "Thank you for your letter. Below you can find Aldi South statement: The Aldi South Group acknowledges the importance of human and environmental rights. We are taking allegations seriously and will devote all relevant time resources to inspect this topic according to our compliance process."

    The Outlaw Ocean Project's publishing partner, Die Zeit, contacted Aldi South for comment.

    Sarah Gaspers, Communication Specialist in National Buying & Services at Aldi South, replied with a statement from Aldi South: "The ALDI South Group prioritizes and values human and environmental rights throughout all of our operations. We take all supplier activities seriously and will devote all relevant time and resources to inspect this topic in accordance with our compliance process. We can confirm that no products of the mentioned production facility have been sold in German or Austrian stores."

    Future correspondence will be added here as this conversation continues.