I’ll take the shrimp stir-fry, but can you hold the slavery please?!

I’ll take the shrimp stir-fry, but can you hold the slavery please?!

Last week, the Guardian published a video and article that chronicles the slavery behind sourcing raw material for farmed shrimp feed. 6 months in the making, it explains the hardships endured by migrant workers that are sold to captains of Thai fishing boats. Once enslaved, they do not see land for months or years at a time. They fish for ‘trash’ fish, which are usually the by-catch of a different intended catch like tuna. This ‘trash’ fish is not marketable to global markets in developed countries so it is sent to processing plants to be converted into fish meal and/or fish oil for farming shrimp. Shrimp, by comparison, occupy a huge percentage of the world seafood trade. The U.S. consumes more shrimp than any other country in the world. Even more surprisingly, about 90 percent of the shrimp available in the U.S. is imported, and about half of that is unsustainably farmed (not wild-caught).

Rampant mistreatment of workers is often a result of globally traded products like apparel and manufacturing. The Guardian reminds us that laborers of the global seafood trade are no different and the details of their suffering are graphic. One of most disturbing factors is the grand corruption that drives the slavery and the idea that some slavery is permissible albeit small or limited in the grand scheme. CP foods, one of Thailand’s major exporters of farmed shrimp, is rightly vilified in the piece for admitting their awareness of the issue but lacking the will to track and address it.

While the authors did well presenting this issue to a wide audience, I wish they had commented more on the need for consumers to act on this injustice by questioning the efficacy of sustainable seafood labeling/certification programs. This research clearly outlines the falsity behind “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” farmed shrimp (even if the feed is used in recirculating ponds). I think we can all agree that worker mistreatment at any level of the supply chain is unacceptable.

Most consumers who value ‘environmentally friendly’ products still don’t have a clear idea on the elements that go into the evaluation. Independent certification bodies like ASC, BAP, GlobalGap, and Naturland must shoulder the task of withholding sustainable-type certifications if worker abuse or enslavement exists in any part of the supply chain. Given what the Guardian reports, that is obviously not the case and consumers need to speak up about it.

You can watch the video and read the article here: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/10/-sp-migrant-workers-new-life-enslaved-thai-fishing

For a more detailed analysis of the current issues with shrimp certification and how we can do better, check out our last blog post by MAP’s Exec. Director, Alfredo Quarto.

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