A harrowing investigation into imported shrimp found at major retailers in the United States and Europe has exposed the brutal working conditions behind shrimp sold around the world. Victims of human trafficking in Thailand are subjected to inhumane conditions in so-called "peeling sheds," forced to work in dangerous and often unsanitary conditions to pay off "debts" they accrued by brokers who sold them to shrimp manufacturing companies, reveals an investigation by the Associated Press. The cleaned, peeled and de-veined shrimp then found their way into grocery stores, restaurants and pet food brands in the United States and beyond.
The victims of this abuse—often illegal immigrants promised a better life from their native countries of Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia—are often forced to work from 3 a.m. to 7 p.m, peeling hundreds of pounds of shrimp each for $4 a day. Breaks are practically non-existent, as is any form of medical attention or protection from abusive managers; the victims also include children. There are reportedly hundreds of peeling sheds in Samut Sakhon outside of Bangkok, the largest area of shrimp production, many of which are little more than a crude garage without proper running water.
Despite Thailand's blacklist status by the US State Department as one of the "worst human trafficking hubs on earth," products can still be easily traced when it shows up in the United States. "U.S. customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden." All of this to feed America's love affair with shrimp—we consume about 1.3 billion pounds per year—and to support the $7 billion dollar shrimp economy in Thailand.
Following an equally revolting report by the Times about the "Sea Slaves" of Thailand, more than 2,000 fisherman have been freed and there have been "a dozen arrests, millions of dollars' worth of seizures and proposals for new federal laws."