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Slavery with Your Shrimp?
Cheap mass market shrimp often comes with a side of bondage and eco-damage
6/26/2014By Craig Weatherby
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At least 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported.
 
This foreign flood includes some domestic seafood that’s shipped to Asia or Europe for processing, then returned to the U.S. and classified as “imported” seafood.
 
Noted oceans and seafood writer Paul Greenberg decried the drawbacks of this trend in the June 20 edition of The New York Times … see “Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?”.
 

Vital Choice Seafood is a notable exception. All of our salmon, white fish, shellfish, canned seafood – except our wild Portuguese sardines and mackerel – is caught or eco-grown in U.S. or Canadian waters and processed in either country.

 
As Greenberg – the acclaimed author of American Catch and Four Fish – wrote, “Americans eat nearly as much shrimp, mostly farmed in Asia, as the next two most popular seafoods (canned tuna and salmon) combined.”
Campaign asks consumers to pressure the biggest shrimp sellers
Walmart, Carrefour, and Costco were named in the Guardian investigation as the biggest sellers of shrimp whose production relies on slave labor.
 
The disturbing Guardian report included this quote from a man enslaved on Thai shrimp boats: “They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food. They sold us like animals, but we are human beings.”
 
And, according to the Guardian, one trafficking victim witnessed the murder of at least 20 fellow slaves.
 
A Thai-based campaign called Project Issara wants consumers to demand action from the three giant grocers.
 
This initiative asks people to visit their site and submit messages pressing Walmart, Carrefour and Costco to adopt zero tolerance policies and monitor their suppliers.
 
We encourage everyone to take action by sending a message from the Project Issara website.
 
And that fact leads straight to the ongoing scandal of imported Southeast Asian shrimp and widespread abuses – including slavery – among its workforce.
 
Thailand designated a “worst” offender
Six years ago, we conveyed disturbing findings concerning maltreatment of workers who produce farmed and wild-caught in Southeast Asia … especially Thailand.
 
Among other investigators, the U.S. State Department and The Solidarity Center found the Thai industry rife with child and forced labor, sexual abuse, physical intimidation and abuse, unpaid wages, and unsafe/unhealthy workplaces.
 
But it was nearly impossible to get at the truth about any one company, given the bad producers’ documented efforts to intimidate workers.
 
And a broad boycott of all would have harmed poor shrimp workers and innocent companies. (See “Foreign Shrimp Farms Drive Health and Eco Dangers”, “Shrimp-Worker Abuses Exposed”, and “Two Enlightening Fish Stories”.)
 
Alarming reports prompt renewed calls for reform
You’d think that by now, credible findings publicized widely six years ago would have changed things.
 
But that hasn't happened, so grass roots groups want you to press the major retailers ... see our sidebar, “Campaign asks consumers to pressure the biggest shrimp sellers”.
 
In response to ongoing abuses in the Southeast Asian shrimp industry and renewed campaigns to stop them, The New York Times ran an editorial titled “Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate”.
 
The Times editorial was prompted in part by the State Department’s annual human trafficking report and a report in the Guardian newspaper, titled “Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK”.

The State Department report listed Thailand among the worst violators, while Malaysia and Venezuela made the “worst list” for the first time, joining 20 other countries in that category, including North Korea, Iran and Russia.
 
Thailand exports more than $7 billion of shrimp … with much of that plentitude ending up on Americans’ plates.
 
The Thai government admits that some 300,000 people work in the shrimp industry, most of them undocumented, unprotected migrants.
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