Costco, Walmart May Be Buying Shrimp From Suppliers Who Rely on Slave Labor

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 11 2014 2:53 PM

Costco and Walmart May Be Buying Shrimp From Suppliers Who Rely on Slave Labor

125966537-thailand-trafficking-rights-myanmar-cambodia-feature-by
A migrant laborer is at work on a Thai fishing boat in Thailand's Rayong province. Around 270,000 migrants work in Thailand's fishing industry, many labor as slaves.

Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

Did you know that some of the seafood you purchase and eat could be the product of slave labor? After a six-month investigation, the Guardian revealed on Tuesday that laborers forced to work under brutal conditions for years without pay—slaves, in other words—are used in Asia to produce seafoods sold primarily to prominent British, U.S., and European retailers.

The exhaustive report found that thousands of the men who end up as slaves initially fled to Thailand in search of a better life. Most of the migrants, who are from neighboring countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia, pay brokers to secure jobs and passage to Thailand for them. But once they've handed over the money, they're tricked into enslavement. One man interviewed for the piece thought he was going to work at a pineapple factory, but soon discovered that he'd been duped: “When I saw the boats, I realized I’d been sold…I was so depressed, I wanted to die.”

Advertisement

About 270,000 migrants work in Thailand’s fishing industry. Boat captains buy slaves for as little as £250 ($419) and subject them to numerous atrocities: one meal of rice a day, 20-hour shifts, frequent beatings and killings (one was thrown overboard while chained to a rock as punishment for insubordination).

These boats mainly catch squid, tuna, and "trash fish," or inedible bycatch ground into fishmeal for use in Thailand's massive prawn industry. The edible fish are eventually sold to the Thai-based multinational company CP Foods. From there, the fish food is exported to parts of Europe and America where they end up in stores such as Walmart, Costco, and Tesco.

While non-governmental organizations and UN reports have called attention to slavery in the Thai fishing industry before, the Guardian piece (accompanied by a documentary film) is the first time that the intricate dots between suppliers, slaves, producers, and retailers have been connected.

Irene Chidinma Nwoye is a writer and former Slate intern in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 1:52 PM Julian Casablancas’ New Album Sounds Like the Furthest Thing From the Strokes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.