For most people, especially here in the United States, shrimp is a decadent indulgence and, for some, a necessity for a diet. Despite the pro- and anti-consumption preferences Americans may have on the little sea critters, shrimp is a big business food item. Back in 2009 alone, numerous shrimp companies reportedly raked in about $12 billion. That is a lot of paper with past presidents for the harvesting of a bottom-feeder right? Unfortunately, cheap shrimp connoisseurs are about to feel shameful for buying shrimp at certain stores, specifically Walmart and Costco.
In recent reports originating for The Guardian, the shrimp sold at Walmart and Costco is from a supplier who uses slaves. It is also reported that the slaves are forced to work with no pay and under the threat of extreme violence.
According to the article, a six-month investigation established that large numbers of men are bought and sold like animals and held against their own will on fishing boats off Thailand. This practice is considered “necessary” and “integral” for the production of prawns (commonly known as shrimp) sold in leading supermarkets chains around the world. The top four global retailers, Walmart, Carrefour, Costco, and Tesco, are also on that list.
Charoen Pokphand Foods (CP Foods), the world’s largest prawn farmer, buys fishmeal (used to feed farmed shrimp), from suppliers that own, operate, or buy from fishing boats that utilize slaves. This can be confirmed by men who have fortunately escaped from the boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it talked about the horrifying conditions. This includes 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture, and execution-style killings. Some were sea bound for years while others were offered meth regularly to keep them going. Worse, some saw fellow slaves tortured and murdered right in front of them.
In a follow-up report by CBS, more than a dozen migrant workers from Asian countries, including Cambodia, said they paid brokers to help them find work in Thailand. Instead, they were sold into slavery, sometimes for cheap. Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was a slave on a shrimp boat, explained the horrific details of his account:
“I thought I was going to die. 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.”
Another unnamed victim explained that he saw 20 fellow slaves killed right in front of him. One of the atrocious executions had the man tied, limb to limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea. And though not part of the initial report, it is known that Thailand, including Cambodia, has an issue with child labor and child slavery, enough that the United States Department of Labor keeps up with the info. Knowing how prominent it is in that area, it can be possible that children may be used as slaves too.
Unfortunately, slave labor on seafood boats, including shrimp, isn’t something new but has never been fully investigated and brought to the forefront until now. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, had this to say:
“If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor.”
As a matter of fact, Walmart and Costco (along with others) are taking a stand and are not tolerating the fact they bought shrimp from a company that utilizes slave labor. Most of them, are even throwing away all their stock and searching alternative shrimp companies for their supply.
[Image via Shutterstock]