Back in 2014, The Guardian pulled back the curtain on the appalling conditions that plague Thailand’s fishing industry, which relies primarily on slave labor and coercion tactics.
Thailand is the second-largest supplier of seafood to the U.S., shipping half of its shrimp supply to the U.S., which consumes 1.3 billion pounds per year. That means, in all likelihood, you’ve probably purchased a product from this supply chain.
Now a recent AP report has once again revived these same fears about quality and sourcing. The much-discussed story, which acknowledges Thailand as a “human-trafficking hub,” says able bodies from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar “gut…de-vein and peel the seafood that fuels [Samut Sakhon, Thailand]’s economy.” Against their will, workers are housed in peeling sheds that provide shrimp to major Thai seafood suppliers.
Incensed businessmen in the U.S. have made public statements condemning the conditions, but technical loopholes and political reasons (Thailand is an ally) have prevented a swift response.
To understand the gravity of the situation at hand, here are a few key takeaways.
The workers are slaves in the truest sense of the word.
Stripped of their rights, workers are sold to different peeling sheds. “Because they were illegal workers, the owners constantly threatened to call police to keep them in line,” the AP reports. “Even documented migrants were vulnerable because the boss held onto identification papers so they could not leave.” Workers are only addressed by an assigned number, not their name.
Living conditions are abysmal.
Each shed holds 50 to 100 people, who are being monitored by an authority figure. The AP reports: “Inside the large warehouse, toilets overflowed with feces, and the putrid smell of raw sewage wafted from an open gutter just outside the work area. Young children ran barefoot through suffocating dorm rooms. Entire families labored side-by-side at rows of stainless steel counters piled high with tubs of shrimp…A woman eight months pregnant miscarried on the shed floor and was forced to keep peeling for four days while hemorrhaging. An unconscious toddler was refused medical care after falling about 12 feet onto a concrete floor. Another pregnant woman escaped only to be tracked down, yanked into a car by her hair and handcuffed to a fellow worker at the factory.”
The ongoing investigation has had made a real impact on the lives of workers.
“More than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been freed this year. The reports also have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars’ worth of seizures, and proposals for new federal laws.”
The slave-tainted shrimp is infiltrating major American restaurant chains.
The list includes, but is not limited to, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General, Petco, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden. Forty brands were also “linked to the exported shrimp,” from Chicken of the Sea to Aqua Star. “AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor.”
Chefs are demanding transparency with their seafood supplies.
Culinary figures like Tom Colicchio are on the front lines of a battle with Big Business to clearly label GMO products. The chef recently decried the public sale of AquAdvantage salmon, “the first genetically engineered animal approved for human consumption.” Colicchio argues that while safe for humans, the “Frankenfish”—dependent on antibiotics—may have unforeseeable effects on other species and aqua-climates. Even more concerning is that “this new engineered fish could be marketed as…Atlantic salmon. There might be no way for consumers to identify it as genetically engineered.”
Screenshot via The Guardian