DUVALL, Wash. — On June 10, The Guardian revealed that farm-raised prawns sold to U.S. companies such as Wal-Mart and Costco, as well as dozens of other retailers throughout the U.K. and Europe, are products of Asian slave labor. Six months of investigations reveals the horrors of the seafood industry, and may make you think twice about where you purchase your seafood.
Charoen Pokphand Foods (CP Foods) is a Thailand-based company that buys fish-meal from suppliers that operate ships manned by purchased slaves. The fish-meal is used to feed the farmed prawns that consumers find on supermarket shelves throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Around 270,000 migrants have fled to Thailand from impoverished countries like Burma, Cambodia and Laos. These migrants were looking for work and a better quality of life. Instead, they found themselves enslaved in the fishing industry. About four million total migrants work in Thailand. Brokers get paid by these migrants to help them find and secure jobs. Once the migrants pay the brokers, they are sold as slaves to Thai fishing vessels.
The workers that have managed to escape from the boats supplying CP Foods tell of the horrific working and living conditions on the fishing vessels. They were often forced to work 20 hour shifts. Their stories also convey unthinkable violence. Escaped workers report witnessing the beatings, torture and execution-style killings of their coworkers.
One worker reports having watched a co-worker chained to a rock and thrown overboard. Another worker reports that he had seen more than 20 people kicked right in front of him. The victim recalls another incident where a coworker was tied from his limbs to the bows of two ships which pulled apart his body. Many workers are given methamphetamine to keep them working through the injuries sustained from the torture.
Another worker, a former monk from Cambodia named Vuthy, told The Guardian “I thought I was going to die. They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or gave me any food…They sold us like animals, but we’re not animals – we are human beings.”
“We’d get beaten even if we worked hard,” another victim said.
Slavery in the fishing industry has been researched before, but recent research connects slavery occurring in the supply chain to the world’s leading retailers and food suppliers.
“If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.
Thailand’s government claims “combating human trafficking is a national priority,” yet a lawless, unregulated industry run by criminals and facilitated by Thailand officials was discovered during recent investigations.
Anti-Slavery International and a team of anti-human trafficking experts is heading Project Issara (issara meaning ‘Freedom’ in several Southeast Asian languages) which aims to “support the establishment of a project to tackle widespread forced labour in Thialand’s export oriented industries affecting global supply chains”.
The recent findings are expected to downgrade the trading status Thailand currently holds with the U.S.
– Jerilynn Haddow