Don't read this if you enjoy shrimp -- and hate slavery
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A shocking investigative report from The Guardian reveal that virtually all shrimp harvested in Thailand is in some way a product of slave labor, and that much of this shrimp ends up in the mainstream food supply chain. If you eat shrimp, it is likely you are consuming the fruits of slave labor.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Guardian has published an investigative report that finds much of the shrimp consumed around the world, especially that provided by the booming $7.3 billion per year Thai industry, is the product of slave labor.
The report explains that countless numbers of slaves work on fishing boats, often anchored far from shore, and they receive no pay and are often tortured and even executed. These fishing fleets, staffed with slaves, are a key part of the shrimp supply chain.
Most of these boats do not harvest shrimp, but instead collect what the report calls "trash fish." These are small or inedible fish that cannot be sold at market. Instead, they are sold to factories which produce "fish meal" which are basically protein flakes -fish food, fed to shrimp on mainstream farms.
Among the chief beneficiaries of this work is Cheroen Pokhand Foods (CP Foods). CP Foods then supplies shrimp to most of the world's retailers including Costco, and Walmart, among others in the United States.
Chances are, if you live in the United States and consume shrimp, you are likely enjoying the fruits of slave labor.
Several have escaped the fishing boats only to relate harrowing tales of terror. Nearly all of the victims report being brokered into the trade, offered work by third parties who actually sold them into slavery, often for as little as a few hundred dollars.
Once enslaved at sea, the captives are usually chained and forced to work for as long as 20 hours per day. Beatings, torture and forced drug-use are common. Methamphetamines are given to keep slaves awake and working.
Slaves who fail to do their work or to satisfy their captains can be tortured. Workers commonly get little to no food. They are worked literally to death. Those who anger their captains can be killed execution-style, often in front of the crew as an example to others. The Guardian report recounted one incident where four boat captains decided to execute a slave by tying his limbs to the bows of four boats and pulling him apart.
The Thai government is well aware of the practice, but it has a notorious record of failing to do anything to combat human trafficking. In fact, high government officials are often involved. An ongoing military coup certainly prevents much progress on the problem.
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Activists are calling upon the Thai government to make fishing fleets use government-provided workers, but this is very unlikely to happen. Experts say that using paid labor as opposed to slaves could even collapse the shrimp industry as food costs for shrimp would soar.
Retailers say they are conducting their own audits to endure socially responsible acquisition of products, but decry the system as opaque. All of the retailers including CP foods, Costco and Walmart said they did not have enough information to change their business practices while paying lip service to the reduction and eradication of human trafficking.
This leaves the matter to consumers to demand change by voting with their wallets to deny sales to those who profit from slavery. However with most people ambivalent about slavery and actually changing their habits, which now ensnares some 27 million people -more than were brought to the United States in all the centuries of legal chattel slavery, it is unlikely that change will come anytime soon.
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