Heartbreaking Story Behind The Shrimp Industry: Slaves In Thailand May Have Peeled Them For You

Dec 17, 2015 10:10 AM EST | By Alexis Villarias

A heartbreaking story was recently revealed by an investigation conducted by AP in the booming shrimp industry in Thailand. Turns out, shrimps sold by global supermarkets are peeled by enslaved workers in Thailand.

According to the report, slave workers are forced to peel shrimps in cramped, small spaces for up to 16 hours a day. As early as 2 a.m., they get up to the sound of their doors being kicked and threats of being beaten. And for the next 16 hours, they are forced to peel shrimps under constant monitoring from their Thai bosses.

Women and children are among the almost 100 Burmese workers trapped in the Gig Peeling Factory. They allegedly receive very little or no pay at all. More so, these workers are forced to work through illness. They are only allowed to have 15-minute lunch breaks. Every day, these workers suffer from physical and verbal abuse from their Thai bosses.

The persistent human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world's biggest shrimp providers. The government and businesses have repeatedly assured that they will clean the country's $7 billion seafood export industry. However, the investigation done by AP has revealed that shrimps peeled by modern-day slaves have reached the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Half of the United States demand for shrimp is supplied by Thailand. When AP revealed its investigation, U.S. officials and human rights activists have advised that American consumers be selective in where they purchase the shrimp.

Hundreds of shrimp peeling sheds are hidden from plain sight. All sheds found by AP have 50-100 people locked inside.

The investigative reports also monitored supply trucks delivering to major Thai distributors. Records from U.S. Customs ad Thai industry show that shrimp has been exported globally, making its way to major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco. The shrimps were also supplied in Red Lobster and Oliver Garden.

Although European and Asian records are confidential, Thai records show that shrimps are also exported to Europe and parts of Asia.

As a result of an on-going investigation into slavery in Thailand's seafood industry, more than 2,000 trapped fishermen have been freed this year. This also prompted the government to create proposals for new federal laws. The report also led to dozens of arrests and millions worth of seizures.

"All of us may find ourselves eating a slave made product without knowing it, but once we know it, we all have a moral obligation, I believe, to make a personal decision to boycott it," said New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.S. State Department Anti-Trafficking Ambassador Susan Coppedge advises consumers to make sure that food is not made from forced slavery by visiting their website, slaveryfootprint.org.

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