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The High Cost of Cheap Shrimp

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The Guardian recently revealed shocking results from a six-month investigation of the Thai fishing industry: Much of the shrimp sold in American and British supermarkets were produced with slave labor.

While shrimp sold to U.S. consumers hail from a number of different countries, including our own, Thailand is the world's biggest shrimp supplier. Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, the corporation at the heart of this story, is Thailand's largest shrimp farmer. 

You may think slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. But it's still around.

Disturbingly, there are even cases of modern-day slavery found here in the United States - including farmworkers in Florida chained and locked inside of U-Haul style trucks, forced to work in the fields for as little as $20 per week. But here in the United States, when we catch cases like that, we send the perpetrators to jail.

Strangely enough, slavery only became illegal everywhere when Mauritania became the last country to outlaw it in 1981. Worse yet, Mauritania didn't criminalize slavery until 2007.

In Thailand, slavery is illegal, plain and simple. It just happens anyway - a lot. The majority of the estimated half a million victims are migrants from poorer nations like Burma. They pay brokers to help them find jobs in Thailand, and instead the brokers sell them to fishing boats as slaves.

Once on the boats, the slaves are held without pay, forced to work up to 20 hours per day. Those who have escaped describe regular beatings, torture, and even witnessing the murder of other slaves.

But these boats don't catch shrimp. They catch other fish and sea creatures - fish that aren't economically valuable as human food. Then they sell their catch to factories that grind them into fishmeal.   


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