Thailand’s Seafood Slave Labor

Over the past few months news has spread about the horrors of Thailand’s labor trafficking issues in regards to the fishing industry.  It all started when Nestle’s Fancy Feast was suspected and proven to have shrimp that had unethical sources.  Even more recently, it has been found that little fingers have been working on peeling shrimp 16 hours a day.  The supply chain is not always easy to find.  Here you can see the supply chain fully laid out in detail for all to see leading to places like Walmart.  If you buy shrimp this holiday season, be sure to be aware that much of it comes from slave labor (watch a video that explains more).

“If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International. [2]

The slave labor chain always starts with where the product comes from originally.  The fishermen who were slaves on boats were treated very terribly.

“Some [slaves] were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.” [1]

“‘I thought I was going to die,‘ Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain, said to the Guardian. ‘They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food … They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings.'” [1]

“Another victim of the horrific human trafficking told a story about how he had witnessed as many as 20 fellow slaves murdered outright in front of him; one was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and subsequently pulled apart while at sea, he said.” [2]

thaifishingThe shrimp was delivered to places such as Gig Peeling Factory.  More mistreatment continued.  Many who were victims came from other countries such as Burma, brought in with promises of good jobs and instead suffered as slaves.

“Tin Nyo Win and his wife were paid $4 per day, about 50 percent of what they were originally promised when they left their home, making paying off the debt a hopelessly insurmountable goal. For the $4, they were expected to clean 175 pounds of shrimp.” [3]

“Tin Nyo Win and his now-pregnant wife are reported to be housed in a shelter for trafficking victims run by the Thai government. As a result of the investigation by AP, some 2,000 workers have been freed from slave labor conditions in shrimp sheds in Thailand in 2015. Millions of dollars worth of slave labor-tainted shrimp has been seized and ‘a dozen arrests’ have been made.” [3]

“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.” [4]

“‘We were crying, but we kept peeling shrimp,’ he said. ‘We couldn’t rest. … I think people are guilty if they eat the shrimp that we peeled like slaves.'”

Keep in mind that all this starts because someone is in need of the product.  The US happens to be one in high demand for shrimp.

“Shrimp is the most-loved seafood in the U.S., with Americans downing 1.3 billion pounds every year, or about 4 pounds per person. Once a luxury reserved for special occasions, it became cheap enough for stir-fries and scampis when Asian farmers started growing it in ponds three decades ago. Thailand quickly dominated the market and now sends nearly half of its supply to the U.S.” [4]

“Shrimp from that factory entered the supply chains of Thai Union, which, in the six months prior to the bust, shipped 15 million pounds of frozen shrimp to dozens of U.S. companies, customs records show. Those included Red Lobster and Darden Restaurants, which owns outlets such as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and several other popular American chains.” [4]

What now? Thankfully the Gig Peeling factory closed down, but there are still some shady shrimp warehouses that are run by the same people in operation.  Many trafficking victims have been rescued but even so, because of Thailand’s bad laws, many rescued are not even viewed as human trafficking victims at all and are suffering because of it.  Thailand has gone through many other human trafficking problems and hopefully all that they have been caught with in the year will make for huge changes in how they treat others in general as they fight the corruption there.

“So far this year, more than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been rescued as a result of an ongoing AP investigative series into slavery in the Thai seafood industry. ” [5]Chris Smith, a congressman from NJ says, “All of us may find ourselves eating a slave-made product without knowing it, but once we know it, we all have a moral obligation, I believe, to make a personal decision to boycott it.” [6]

Let’s continue to be conscious of the issues of slavery around the world and how we may be partaking in it.  We can bring an end to labor trafficking like this by spreading the word and making a difference around us.

Want information on seafood fairly caught with well treated farmers?:
Future of Fish
Marine Stewardship Council
Anova Food
Fair Trade Certified Seafood Program
Seafood Watch


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