Lawsuit Alleges Costco Sells Shrimp Harvested By Trafficked Slaves Who Are Whipped, Electrocuted

Costco customers have been fed “slavery on a dinner plate,” thanks to its partnership with a Thai shrimp supplier. The chain is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by one of those customers, accusing it of promoting values in public, while advocating slave labor in private to cut its bottom line.

The shrimp sold as frozen prawns or in wonton soup at Costco is provided by Thai company Charoen Pokhpand Foods or CP Foods, SF Gate reported.

The disturbing truth about the seafood industry in the Southeast Asian country is that it’s fueled by human trafficking. Many of the laborers are Burmese, held captive by traffickers who keep their pay and work them for 20 hours a day, seven days a week — sometimes while chained. Many spend several years at sea, according to the lawsuit, CBS News added.

Those who have survived and fled this situation have reported slaves being whipped, electrocuted, and jumping overboard. According to NBC Bay Area, some are tortured and even murdered.

It’s a huge industry. As the third-largest exporter, Thailand’s sales total $7.3 billion every year; 650,000 people — mostly migrants and slaves — fish waters extending to Indonesia. According to attorney Anne Marie Murphy, the slave labor is concentrated on ships that harvest “trash fish,” which is then fed to the shrimp.

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“Trash fish is basically dredging everything up off the ocean, near the floor, all put together, and then ground into fish meal,” she said. “So the slave labor portion of the chain is on the shipping, on the ships.”

The international community has tried to halt the use of human trafficking in the country’s seafood industry, but to no avail. Both Costco and Walmart have been found to purchase shrimp produced through slavery; a lawsuit may soon be filed against more retailers. Thailand has promised to curb human trafficking in the past, but has failed. The industry is therefore unregulated and controlled by criminals.

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And one Costco customer wasn’t going to stand for it. The lawsuit was filed in the name of Sonoma County resident Monica Sud. She wants to stop Costco and CP Foods from buying products connected to slavery, and for customers who purchased such products and therefore unknowingly supported trafficking to be reimbursed, going back four years.

“California consumers care about the origins of the products they purchase,” said the attorneys involved in the lawsuit. “Consumers do not wish to knowingly purchase a product that is derived from, manufactured or otherwise created or made available through the use of slavery.”

Costco has been accused of producing advertisements that imply its products are made in accordance with its values, but at the same time, taking advantage of unpaid labor, the lawsuit alleges. The point is to make sure that consumers aren’t buying food that is tainted with a criminal, and disturbing industry. And if Costco is covering up that fact, as alleged, customers would have no idea.

The purpose of the lawsuit, therefore, is the “education of consumers to make sure they are not being served slavery on a dinner plate,” said co-counsel Derek Howard.

[Photos Courtesy Justin Sullivan, Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]