These Grocery Chains Have Been Selling Shrimp Made With Slave Labor

Burmese migrants process shrimp. (Photo via Chiangrai Times)

Burmese migrants process shrimp. (Photo via Chiangrai Times)

As Bubba said in the movie Forrest Gump, shrimp are “the fruit of the sea.” There’s all sorts of ways you can cook them, and they’re all delicious. Whether you’re buying cheap popcorn shrimp at Long John Silver’s or enjoying a shrimp cocktail at a $100,000 per ticket political fundraiser for Jeb Bush, shrimp are an American staple.

Shrimp are also in nearly every grocery store, and cheaper imported shrimp have given the American domestic shrimp industry serious competition over the last couple of decades.

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.

It also entered the supply chains of some of America’s best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, which are sold in grocery stores from Safeway and Schnucks to Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons. AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor. (Source)

It’s important to point out that these grocery chains, especially employees or managers at your local store, probably were unaware that the cheap shrimp from places like Thailand were produced by forced labor. However, like many other products that we buy and use, it shouldn’t be a surprise when it turns out that inexpensive imported items are a result of slave labor or unethical business practices.

This isn’t the first time that an investigation has uncovered slave labor being used to produce seafood products. Last year, The Guardian revealed that the source of the fishmeal used to feed farmed shrimp in Thailand came from ships that used slave labor, and tortured or killed captive migrants who refused to work.

Remember the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in which over 1,100 people died? Those workers were paid very low wages and labored in extremely unsafe conditions – all to sell clothing as cheaply as possibly to Western retailers. As The Guardian noted, Bangladesh was chosen by retailers and global brands instead of China or Malaysia because of how profitable it would be to export from a country with minimal labor laws or safety standards.

Corporations exploit cheap labor and buy products from suppliers that can offer the lowest possible price, because we as consumers are always looking for the best deal we can get on anything from shrimp to smartphones. As long as the item meets basic quality standards, corporations and consumers usually don’t care about the condition of the factory it was made in, or the faceless worker on the other side of the world who peeled the shrimp you just ate at Red Lobster.

This is why it is so important to buy products made in the United States, especially if you oppose corporations who have moved overseas to exploit cheap labor and lax regulations. It may cost you a bit more to buy seafood caught and processed in America, but at least you know that the person who caught your tuna or peeled your crawfish wasn’t forced to choose between doing that, or being tossed overboard at sea.


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