SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand – An Associated Press investigation found enslaved migrant workers and children ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand.
AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.
U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.
The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.
Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?
A: That's a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.
Q: What can I do as a consumer to help stop this problem, and how can I ensure the shrimp and other seafood I'm buying is not peeled by children or forced laborers?
A: The first thing you can do is ask. Make it clear to your grocery store managers and restaurant servers that you want to know what they are doing to guarantee that their shrimp and other seafood is free from slavery. Read labels and get to know the origin and history of your seafood. Another option is to buy local, including American wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, consumers have the most power. Experts say if shoppers demand change or stop buying, businesses will be forced to listen, and that's often how reform begins within industry.
Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?
A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef's Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman's Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.
Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?
A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D'Agostino Supermarket; Dan's Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry's Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano's; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin's Super Markets; McDade's Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall's Food Market; Redner's Warehouse Markets; Russ's Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van's Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.
Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?
A: Thailand is one of the world's biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.
Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?
A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world's worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a "yellow card" warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.