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Issue #1645      July, 2, 2014

Slavery in seafood

“They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food ... They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings.”

This heart-wrenching quote is from a man sold from ship to ship in Thailand, caught in the trap of slavery and forced to work on a boat that supplies feed to the prawns we buy at the grocery store.

The three largest grocers in the world – Walmart, Carrefour, and Costco – were named specifically for selling prawns and shrimp whose production relies upon slave labour. One week later, those companies are still refusing to take two simple steps to rout out slavery from their supply chains – and that’s where we come in.

Human rights activists are demanding Walmart, Carrefour and Costco join Project Issara, a Thailand-based initiative to end modern slavery, as well as institute a zero tolerance policy on slavery based on conditions on the ground. The world’s largest prawn and shrimp farmer, Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, is the prime supply offender, buying from suppliers that work directly or indirectly with slave-manned fishing boats. Worse still, the problem isn’t limited to CP Foods. Indeed, human rights advocates have been raising alarms about conditions in the Thai seafood industry for years.

Project Issara was founded by Anti-Slavery International to eliminate slavery within export-oriented industries in Thailand. The project seeks to push brands that may be buying slavery-made products to use their brand power to eliminate slavery within global supply chains.

Testimony from escapees reveals the gravity of this exploitation. One trafficking victim said he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him. “If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the product of slave labour,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.

“We have targeted Walmart in the past over its involvement in Thai slavery in fishing. It cut ties with the supplier in question – but clearly no policies were in place to prevent this from happening again. This is why signing up to Project Issara and devising policies to prevent this from happening again are essential if meaningful change is ever going to be made.”

Walmart customers exist all around the world – it is a global company that owns Woolco stores in Canada, Walmex in Mexico, Bompreço in Brazil and Asda in the UK. Costco is planning a big expansion into Australia and Carrefour has stores in 34 countries. The companies are hoping their customers across the globe won’t make the connection between CP Foods and the prawns we buy at the grocery store.

Next article – Free the Hares Boys

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