Thai Shrimp: Modern-Day Slave Labor Paid $4/Day By Walmart, Whole Foods, Red Lobster Suppliers

Shrimp sold by Walmart, Red Lobster, and Whole Foods is reported to be processed by people working in forced, slave conditions.

A new report commissioned by the Associated Press is describing the conditions faced by workers from Myanmar sold into forced work as shrimp slave labor in Thailand as “human rights abuses,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Shrimp processed by the slave labor operators has been tracked to food suppliers and restaurants in the United States and around the globe.

AP followed a Myanmarese man named Tin Nyo Win and his wife, Mi San, who were smuggled from their home country into Thailand without official documentation, lured by a promise of steady, good-paying work. A broker sold the couple to the Gig Peeling Factory, which considered the couple to owe a debt of $830.

Workers were given numbers by which they were referred; thirty-one was Tin Nyo Win’s number. This prevented the workers, and anyone else, from learning the names of the slave laborers, making it more difficult for anyone with the inclination to help them.

Modern-Day shrimp slave laborers work for $4 per day.

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.

Most first-world countries consider debt bondage and forced labor to be forms of slavery. Because the shrimp slave labor workers have no work permit or visa, they face punishment if they escape or make reports to authorities.

Tin Nyo Win and Mi San were able to spot an opportunity and flee the Gig Peeling Factory. Reportedly, within one day, a manager spotted them in a local market and pulled Mi San away by her hair, back to forced work.

Thai shrimp slave labor workers have been freed as a result of an AP investigation.

On November 9, Tin Nyo Win led police and military officials on a raid of the Gig Peeling Factory. His wife was not there, but she was quickly located at another fish processing plant nearby.

It was then that Tin Nyo Win learned that his wife had been taken to the police after being snatched away in the market, and that instead of attempting to help her and treating her as a victim of trafficking, the police sent her back to shrimp slave labor work.

The Gig Peeling Factory has been shut down, according to reports from Chaiyuth Thomya, a police superintendent in Samut Sakhon. None of the owners or management have ever faced charges for human trafficking or human rights abuses. The workers are reported to have been merely shuffled to another factory linked to the same owner.

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.

AP followed shipments of shrimp from Samut Sakhon to large Thai processors with global customers such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT), Whole Foods Market, Inc. (NASDAQ: WFM), Red Lobster, the Olive Garden (NYSE: DRI), Dollar General General Corporation (NYSE: DG), and The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR), according to the Huffington Post.

Once shrimp is sold to the larger Thai processors, it becomes mixed together so that it is not possible to identify where any individual piece came from. As a result, all shrimp sold by Thai processors is considered to be tainted by slave labor. Other household names that have been connected to the shrimp slave labor industry in Thailand include Fancy Feast, Chicken of the Sea, Albertsons, Schnucks, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, and dozens more.

[AP Photo/Dita Alangkara]