Tainted Shrimp Global supply marred by slave labor

However prevalent bacterial infections and other diseases have been in the food supply, the contamination that is plaguing the global shrimp supply is of another sort: slave labor is a vile and integral part of the industry, according to a team of Associated Press (AP) reporters. The stage is Thailand, whose $7 billion a year shrimp industry is built upon the back of indentured workers, many of whom are migrants or children. The AP reporters interviewed freed workers, followed shrimp trucks, and tracked shipments globally. At the end of the investigation, they found that abhorrent slave labor practices in Thailand provided shrimp to distributors across the globe.  These practices include fishing and peeling. Slavers will promise a good-paying job to fishermen and then, once they have lured the fishermen onto their huge fishing vessels, will not take the ship to port for years, off-loading and supplying with smaller vessels.  Peelers are not treated much differently. Many of the peelers are subjected to the common model of indentured servitude: they are paid very little while living in company housing, with company food. The company charges them for their living expenses at well above what they are paying the employees. By the very design of this system, the employee becomes indebted to the employer and is stuck there, indefinitely or until the government intervenes.  The AP also cited incidents where employees were locked into the sheds and forced to peel 16 hours a day, their hands aching in ice water and an overseer watching constantly. In other incidents, employees were allowed to leave the compound, but only so long as a spouse or child is left as a guarantee that the employee won’t run away. Tin Nyo Win, a 22-year-old freed worker reported that he would routinely peel 175 pounds of shrimp each day for only $4 a day.  The AP gave another account of the system: “They didn’t let us rest,” said Eae Hpaw, 16, her arms a patchwork of scars from shrimp-related infections and allergies. ‘We stopped working around 7 in the evening. We would take a shower and sleep. Then we would start again around 3 in the morning.’ ” According to the report, U.S. customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. It also entered supply chains for some of America’s best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast. AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor. Winn-Dixie is also on the list of distributors who receive shrimp from these tainted suppliers. But avoiding the tainted shrimp will be difficult: the entire list of distributors (given at the end of this article) is huge, and batches of these shrimp can be mixed with shrimp that has been harvested under ethical labor practices. Boycotting shrimp altogether would punish both ethical and unethical employers.  It is up to the Thai government to fix these atrocities. Since the AP report was released, the Thai government has said that they were already aware of the practices and that their police have a division for labor-related crimes. “Authorities found it first,” Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said in a press conference that was held as a result of the AP’s exposé.  But the AP reporters do not think that the government has been doing enough. According to their original report, a raid on a “shrimp shed,” where the indentured peelers work, do not punish the right people. “Arrests and prosecutions are rare. Raids can end up sending migrants without proper paperwork to jail, while owners go unpunished.” The report goes on to blame authorities as well. The AP report states, “Former slaves repeatedly described how police took them into custody and then sold them to agents who trafficked them again. They say police are paid to look the other way and that officers frequently do not understand labor laws.” Kaewkamnerd denied these accounts.  U.S. corporations, however, are placing significant pressure on their suppliers. Many demanded to know whether the shrimp they were distributing had been caught or peeled using unethical labor practices. Red Lobster and Whole Foods both made demands for information— their supplier said that they “hadn’t known where it was getting all its shrimp” and sent a note outlining corrective measures to U.S. businesses demanding answers last week. Responding to U.S. business demands for answers to AP’s findings, Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri acknowledged that “illicitly sourced product may have fraudulently entered its supply chain.” Suppliers like Chansiri say that they have “bought product from, or outsourced peeling to smaller operations with less oversight,” according to the Associated Press. American companies and American consumers are not impressed.  U.S. corporate pressure is one solution. The report itself was another, “which was part of a series of investigations this year into slavery in the fishing industry in the region. More than 2,000-trapped fishermen were freed earlier this year from an island in Indonesia as a result of the AP’s work. The reports also have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars’ worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws,” according to the AP.  Floridian consumers have an option that mainland U.S. citizens do not have: buy local. United States and Florida law governs Florida shrimp operations, which are kinder to employees and the environment than Thai laws. Local shrimp may be more expensive, but they are fresher, tasty and free from the taint of forced labor. Affected brands and companies are as follows: “A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.” Affected supermarkets are as follows: “Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.”

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