Choice Canning’s Jacob Jose responds to Outlaw Ocean Project allegations

Jacob Jose is the vice president of sales and procurement at Choice Canning, a subsidiary of The Choice Group,
Jacob Jose is the vice president of sales and procurement at Choice Canning, a subsidiary of The Choice Group | Photo courtesy of Jacob Jose/LinkedIn
6 Min

Jacob Jose is the vice president of sales and procurement at Choice Canning, the operator of the Tastee Choice seafood brand and a subsidiary of The Choice Group, a shrimp processor and exporter based in Kerala, India. In an interview with SeafoodSource, Jose, who represents the third generation of family ownership of The Choice Group, responded to a 20 March Outlaw Ocean Project report alleging the company engaged in forced labor practices and the exportation of antibiotic-tainted shrimp to the United States.

On 20 March, Choice Canning issued the following additional supplementary statement:

“The allegations that have been brought against our company are false and without merit. For 67 years, Choice Canning Company, Inc. has proudly served our customers by exporting quality seafood products from India. During our history, we have maintained a spotless record with regulators and continue to exceed industry standards to ensure our products meet all certifications. Throughout our history, we have dedicated significant resources to developing and adhering to comprehensive auditing processes and protocols, as well as employee welfare programs. We are one of the few shrimp processors globally to receive an “A” in the BSCI social audit following a complete on-site inspection of our facilities. Since our founding in 1953 in a small fishing village in Southern India, we have continuously sought to grow, develop, and support the communities where we operate – both in the United States and India. For example, in 1991, the Choice Foundation opened a school admitting 80 students and employing seven female teachers. Since then, the three Choice Schools in Kerala State have positively impacted the lives of thousands through quality education and provided livelihoods to hundreds of female teachers. The Choice Schools have been recognized as the seventh-best in India. Additionally, in 2022, the Choice Foundation launched the Choice Women Empowerment Program, which has aimed at improving the quality of life for women in Andhra Pradesh through professional growth opportunities.

SeafoodSource: Is the Choice Group knowingly selling any antibiotic-tainted shrimp into the U.S. market? 

Jose: The answer is absolutely not. If you looked up our company’s name and we had 15 [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] rejections for antibiotics, I would say we had a problem. But, we don’t have any. You might get lucky once or twice, but you don't get lucky for six or seven years. We had 21 loads handled by the FDA in the past year, and everything passed. We have a rigorous testing procedure in place to test for antibiotics and locate any issue, and we have an agreement where if there is any problem, the supplier will take the shrimp back. It’s unbelievable they can make these wild claims. We are squeaky clean; we follow everything by the books. 

SeafoodSource: Is there any kind of forced labor in either your factories or at your third-party contractors that you're aware of?

Jose: Forced labor doesn't exist in India. They’re twisting terms to use the term forced labor; there's no forced labor in the Indian industry. It doesn't exist.

Our employee turnover is high, just like in America, and we use temp workers. Our employees change out of the facility every 10 to 15 days; no one stays because they’re mostly temp jobs. Over the last six months, we’ve had them work two Sundays to get through urgent orders; we pay overtime, and it’s optional work. We pay our wages. We paid them all the salary – every dollar owed to them.

There is a procedure for safety protocol. There's no forced labor. Employees are free to leave when they want to. They can come and go as they please. There is a procedure once they check into our dorm; they then have to check out if they’re going to leave and get a gate pass. But, if somebody wants to leave at 2:30 in the morning, as a dedicated employer … [we don’t let our employees] walk out of our factory in the middle of night in rural India. It's for their safety and ours.

Our last social audit was unannounced. They interviewed workers; they talked to people. If one person says one bad thing, you're done; it's over. That didn’t happen. They could see the smiles on the associates’ faces. They could see how they're treated – the fun we have with activities, sports, games, and dancing. How is that forced labor?

SeafoodSource: What is your response to this investigation?

Jose: I know Josh. His motive from this is to come out when all of this is done and say, “Well, you made me do wrong things. I don't have a job now. Give me a million dollars.” That’s not going to work because in a court, they look at evidence – not statements and stories. We are going after him, and we’re going to go after Outlaw Ocean for irresponsible journalism. There are freedoms of press, but publishing with malicious intent is illegal. After we gave them concrete proof of our wage bills and documents for every single thing they allege, they still decided to ignore it all and believe [Farinella’s] word.

We're not a fly-by-night operator. We've been in this business for 67 years. We don't even own the factory [featured in the story]; it was leased, and we terminated the lease as of 1 March. We’re moving into our new plant [where we] built the dorms like the Taj Mahal – it's unbelievable and includes reading lights for everyone’s bed and charging plates. Everything is air-conditioned.

SeafoodSource: Is The Choice Group planning on doing anything differently in the future because of this investigation?

Jose: We are going to be absolutely fine. We're good people. We are very well-respected in the industry and in the country. Our customers all know us as people, and none of our customers believe any of this because they have all visited our factory and have seen the good things we do. My father can’t stand proud and give a speech to thousands of students and their parents at our school if, on the other hand, we’re holding workers and doing forced labor, right? It doesn't work that way. Thousands of people depend on us for employment; that’s thousands of families dependent on us. Our school, which is a nonprofit educating 4,000 children, depends on us being a profitable business.

We gave an open invite to Outlaw Ocean to visit our facilities, asking them to come and do true journalism. Why don't they take my offer? That itself shows me their intention is incorrect. They have an agenda. They want to get clicks. They haven't investigated anything. They listen to this guy's lies blindly. Well, let them do what they want to, and we'll deal with it. But listen, I believe in karma, and this will come back to them.

SeafoodSource Premium

Become a Premium member to unlock the rest of this article.

Continue reading ›

Already a member? Log in ›


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500
Editor's Choice