On Monday, the Associated Press reported that shrimp processed in plants using forced and child labor in Thailand was on the shelves in U.S. stores.
Tacking on to a string of investigative stories on slavery in the Thai seafood industry, AP reporters describe the experience of Tin Nyo Win — or Number 31 as he was called — and his experience working in the Gig Peeling Factory. There he was forced, along with his wife, to rip the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.
For 16 hours a day he was forced to work. If he did not, he was beaten.
In recent months, Thai businesses and government have promised to begin cleaning up the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry, which is reportedly filled with cruel and unethical treatment of workers.
But AP reporters were able to track shrimp from this factory that enslaved hundreds of workers to Thai exporting companies and tracked the producer globally using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports.
According to those records, the shrimp that resulted from slave labor made their way into major stores and retailers in the United States, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants like Red Lobster and Olive Garden. They also entered well-known seafood and pet food brand products, like Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast.
Many of those businesses immediately issued statements condemning the labor practices described in the AP report, some noting they had been assured by their supplier, Thai Union, that their shrimp was not processed by slaves.
Meanwhile, Thai Union admitted it didn’t know the source of all its shrimp.
The company promised to exclusively use in-house labor starting Jan. 1.
AP reports on Thailand’s seafood industry have led to a dozen arrests, millions of dollars' worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws in the past year. The problem is, cleaning up an entire industry full of corruption is going to take time. We can read the PR statements for days on end, but that doesn’t mean anything is being done to stop these terrible practices quickly.
U.S. consumers don’t have the political power to stop these injustices, but they can affect those companies through their purchasing power. Despite these stories of slave labor being told more often and more prominently in the media, there is still a disconnect for consumers.
As fishermen and other members of the industry, it’s important to share these stories with people who might not be so in touch with seafood news.