Most of us have enjoyed a meal containing seafood, whether it’s fish and chips, ceviche, or sushi. However, do we stop to think about how it was possible for us to eat such meals? Do we ever acknowledge the labor that goes towards the processing of seafood?
Since 2000, the United States has become the largest consumer of seafood, surpassing Japan and China. As a consumer of over 4.7 billion pounds of seafood, there has to be some attention paid towards this industry. For example, where does it all come from, and who is producing such high amount labor.
The seven countries that export the most of the seafood that is distributed all around the world are China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Ecuador. We need to examine how these countries are able to export more than 984 million pounds of shrimp per year since 2011. One of the areas of focus is then the labor that is used in this industry. We must look at the practices, wages, and conditions that workers are put in in order to produce such amounts of seafood.
Focusing on one of the seven countries that exports the most seafood, Thailand, we can further examine the labor practices that go towards the production of such high amounts of shrimp in particular. In an investigation conducted by Associated Press (AP), there was evidence that confirmed the usage of slave labor in the seafood industry. AP interviews spoke with current workers in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. As told by the workers, they start working at 3 A.M and finish at 7 P.M., working for little to no money and kept inside sheds, often locked inside. They have no way to escape. Employees are both adults and children, who do not have the opportunity to go to school and are also kept in these harsh working and living conditions.
In the past two years there have been lawsuits against U.S. food stores who are selling seafood that is tainted by slave labor. Costco is facing a law suit for selling seafood that has been produced using slave labor. In this lawsuit investigation, it was found that large numbers of men were being bought and held against their will to work. They were often working 20 hour shifts, received regular beatings and were tortured by their bosses.
The seafood industry has fallen into a cycle of mass exportation that is tainted by slave labor. In our learning community we engaged in a conversation, after reading the Eric Haas essay, about a similar topic where the labor used for agriculture is often neglected. The labor used in the seafood industry is often not thought about because our focus is on its freshness or benefits. While this issue has been brought up, there is still much work to be done in order to improve working conditions in the seafood industry.