by James Parks
Tasty shrimp comes with a high price tag—and in the $13 billion seafood processing industry, workers pay it. In a report released today, the Solidarity Center documents child labor, beatings and torture, sweatshop wages and hazardous working conditions in shrimp processing plants in Bangladesh and Thailand. Those two countries export $4 billion worth of shrimp sold in U.S. retail stores and restaurants such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Sysco, Harris Teeter, IGA, Trader Joe’s, Cub Foods, Giant, Long John Silver’s and Red Lobster.
Every year, Americans eat more than 450,000 tons of shrimp, about three pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. Eighty percent of that shrimp is imported, with one-third coming from Thailand.
Says Solidarity Center Executive Director Ellie Larson:
Our hope is that the release of this report will illustrate how the “shrimp boom” is sustained through a staggering, largely hidden, cost to workers, their families and the environment. The true cost of shrimp is not what is seen on a supermarket price tag or a restaurant menu. Shrimp industry workers in Bangladesh and Thailand deserve to have their story told. The abuse of their rights, as workers and as people, must be exposed.
Based on accounts from workers in the shrimp farming and processing plants in Thailand and Bangladesh, the report found:
- Widespread exploitation of migrant workers, including beatings, torture, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment.
- Human trafficking of workers.
- Forced labor where workers often work 16 to 20 hours for as little as 30 cents per day or nothing at all.
- Widespread use of child labor, with some factories employing up to 150 children, some as young as 5 years old.
The report quotes workers like “Alam,” a shrimp processing worker in Chittagong, Bangladesh, who says:
None of the workers have gloves or boots or safety equipment to protect us from injury, or waste or pollution. I make 2,000 taka ($30) a month. The rent for my room in Chittagong city, including electricity, comes to 1,500 taka a month. This means I have only 500 taka ($7.40) to spend on food, clothes and anything else.
The report clearly points to the need to fight to end human rights abuses around the world, says Ambassador Mark Lagon, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Says Lagon:
By highlighting injustices such as human trafficking and unsafe working conditions, the report shows us we still have a long way to go in the fight for workers’ rights.