As people try to buy ethically produced food, many companies try to hide the sources of the food that they sell. A shocking investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that much of the shrimp sold in the United States actually comes from processing plants in Thailand that use child slavery. Both popular grocery stores and restaurants have been selling shrimp that was made with child slave labor. To look into this issue, the investigation started at a shrimp processing plant in Samut Sakhon, a Thai province near Bangkok.
In this plant, over 10,000 children work in deplorable conditions for little or no pay. The children, who are aged from 13 to 15 years old, are from Myanmar and Cambodia. They are shipped into Thailand from the neighboring countries and forced to work in plants that call them by a number instead of a name. The plant is a huge warehouse that makes entire families work for them. In addition to the children working at the plant, husbands and wives labor side by side. People are only allowed to leave the building to get food if one person from the family stays inside, so that they will not run away. The migrants have almost no rights within Thailand. At large steel tables, people stand hunched over piles of shrimp, peeling and deveining them for 12 to 16 hours each day. There is no where to take a break, and the few toilets inside the plant are broken and overflowing with raw sewage. This warehouse is just one of the many shrimp plants that have horrifying conditions.
Previous investigations showed that fear, intimidation, and physical coercion were used to keep people working without pay in other factories. In some plants, workers who tried to leave were beaten, tortured, or even executed. To keep the slaves working for 20 hours at a time, they were given methamphetamines. Every step of the process, from catching the shrimp to packaging them, is filled with human rights violations. The Associated Press tracked the shrimp that left the Samut Sakhon plant. Shipping records and custom records showed the shrimp’s journey across the world.
Ultimately, it ended up in 11 grocery and restaurant chains. Retail giants, Walmart, Kroger, and Costco, all bought some of the shipment. One of the chains that bought the shrimp was Darden Restaurants, which owns popular brands including Bahama Breeze, Olive Garden, and Longhorn Steakhouse. Other buyers of the slave-processed shrimp were Red Lobster, Whole Foods, HEB Supermarkets, Petco, and Dollar General. Sadly, this investigation merely reveals the corporations profiting from child slavery.
The deplorable conditions of the shrimp industry have been known for years, but the Thai government does nothing to stop the human trafficking and slavery. It is up to the consumers to become educated and use their buying power to effect policy changes. If people refuse to buy and eat seafood that was not ethically produced, corporations will hopefully stop using it.