Wal-Mart and Costco are selling shrimp linked to slavery

Horrific human rights abuses are integral to the global shrimp supply chain, an investigation finds

Topics: slavery, shrimp, Thailand, Costco, Walmart, ,

As many as 21 million men, women and children are victims of modern-day slavery, and a Guardian report reveals how that abuse reverberates throughout the global shrimp supply chain, down to the seafood sold by major retailers throughout Europe and the U.S.

Allegations of serious human rights abuses in the South Asian shrimping industry have surfaced before, but the Guardian claims that its six-month investigation more thoroughly traces the long chain of production involved. It begins by connecting fishing boats manned by slaves to Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, the world’s largest shrimp supplier. Some of the fishmeal that CP Foods feeds its shrimp comes from those boats, a fact the company admitted. The shrimp is then sold to food manufactures and retailers including Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco. Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, simplified the complex chain thusly: ”If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labor.”

The details, as reported by the Guardian, are horrific:

Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.

…”I thought I was going to die,” said Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain. “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 trafficking victim said he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea.

“We’d get beaten even if we worked hard,” said another. “All the Burmese, [even] on all the other boats, were trafficked. There were so many of us [slaves] it would be impossible to count them all.”

When contacted, the companies implicated all condemned slave labor — and some indicated that they’d already been aware of the problem. “We know there’s issues,” said Bob Miller, CP Foods’ U.K. managing director, “but to what extent that is, we just don’t have visibility.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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