Do you know where that shrimp you ate for dinner came from?
Since the U.S. imports over 90 percent of its shrimp, the chances are that your dinner came from a South Asian country like Thailand, Indonesia or China.
Maybe you already know that imported shrimp is on the Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch List to “Avoid” at all costs. That’s because less than two percent of all imported seafood is inspected, which means that imported shrimp often contains antibiotics, cleaning chemicals used in farmed shrimp pens, residues of toxic pesticides banned in the U.S., and pieces of insects. Sounds tasty, right?
Now a new report alleges that not only is this shrimp toxic, but it is also farmed and processed under shocking conditions.
The briefing paper, by Warehouse Workers United (WWU) and the International Labor Rights Forum (LRF), alleges serious violations of human rights including illegal use of unpaid and underage workers, at the Thai shrimp producer Narong Seafood, at least until recently a major supplier of Walmart and a leading shrimp processor for the US market.
For the study, called “The Walmart Effect: Child and Worker Rights Violations at Narong Seafood,” the two groups commissioned Thai-based researchers to interview Narong workers.
According to Mother Jones:
They discovered that factory inspections by international buyers, auditors, and Thai Labor Ministry officials were always announced in advance and cursory; that underage employees were forced to work the night shift in order to avoid these inspections; that wages were illegally slashed after a slowdown; and that undocumented foreign workers were charged exorbitant fees for work papers.
In addition, interviewees reported that around 20 underage workers were employed at the factory until the factory began to experience a slowdown in production due to diseased shrimp. It appears that most of these underage employees worked the night shift along with 100 to 200 undocumented migrant workers. It also emerged that during audits managers instructed underage workers not to come to work.
Narong of course denies all of these allegations.
Walmart, incidentally the largest retailer of shrimp in the U.S., also insists that it stopped buying from Narong in 2012, but Tom Philpott, writing in Mother Jones, found evidence that the company seems to have imported 36,000 pounds of Narong shrimp as recently as March, 2013.
So who is telling the truth?
As the third largest public corporation and mega retail chain in the world, Walmart has been in the news recently, and not in a good way. After the horrific building collapse at the Rana Factory in Bangladesh last month, when at least 1,100 garment workers died, the company refused to sign an agreement with other retail chains to improve safety and working conditions for factory workers overseas.
Their statement read:
The company, like a number of other retailers, is not in a position to sign the IndustriALL accord at this time.
While we agree with much of the proposal, the IndustriALL plan also introduces requirements, including governance and dispute resolution mechanisms, on supply chain matters that are appropriately left to retailers, suppliers and government, and are unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals.
Not in a position to sign? Unnecessary to achieve fire and safety goals? How much did they pay a lawyer to write this? Is making a profit their only motive?
The briefing paper on the Thai shrimp industry calls on Walmart to begin working with labor and human rights activists in Thailand to ensure the rights of migrant workers who produce shrimp for Walmart are respected.
What are the chances the company will listen and act this time? It’s not looking good: so far, their only response has been to deny that they even do business with Narong.
Meanwhile, for those of us who love our shrimp, the picture is bleak. Domestic shrimp would be the answer, except that 70 percent of domestic shrimp comes from the Gulf of Mexico, and the recent oil spill has made us all wary of eating that. That leaves shrimp from Texas, the East Coast, and the Carolinas, if you can find it.
What do you think? Would you buy shrimp from Walmart?
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