Next time you're out buying seafood, consider getting the lobster. A Guardian report reveals that shrimp sold across the U.S. and U.K. are produced in part by slaves off the coast of Thailand who endure unimaginable violence and abuse.
Charoen Pokphand Foods, or CP Foods, the world's largest shrimp farmer, is based in Thailand, and sells to retailers incluing Walmart, Costco, and Tesco. To feed its shrimp, the company uses a product called fishmeal, which it buys from suppliers who operate ships manned by men who are unwillingly sold into labor.
The Guardian, which spoke with several escaped slaves, reports truly horrifying conditions on the fishmeal ships. Laborers work 20-hour days for no pay, and are tortured, beaten, and sometimes murdered. Some are given meth as fuel for a long shift. One former slave described the experience as such:
"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 man detailed witnessing an unfathomably gruesome killing:
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.
When asked about the slavery, a CP spokesman claimed the company does not have "visibility" of the extent of the "issues" in its supply chain:
"We're not here to defend what is going on," said Bob Miller, CP Foods' UK managing director. "We know there's issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don't have visibility."
In another statement, the company — which claims it can eliminate its use of fishmeal by 2021 (seven years from now!) — pats itself on the back for making "good progress" in working with the Thai government to eliminate forced labor in the country, where nearly 500,000 people are believed to be enslaved:
"We can do nothing, and witness these social and environmental issues destroy the seas around Thailand, or we can help drive improvement plans. We are making good progress."
The government, by the admission of one of its own, is complicit in the practice. Because boat owners depend on slave brokers, an anonymous official told the Guardian, the state would rather turn a blind eye to the abuse.
All of the retailers contacted for the story said they were against human trafficking and forced labor, and several claimed to be working with CP Foods to end the practice. Of course, there's something everyone can do to pitch in while CP is still buying from slave ships, stores are still buying from CP, and the Thai government is allowing all of it to happen: stop buying shrimp.