AP: Thai Union, Whole Foods and Walmart shrimp supply tied to forced, child labor

Published on
December 14, 2015

Update: Some retailers and restaurants mentioned in the AP report have since shared responses with SeafoodSource. Read them here: Retailers and restaurants respond to latest AP slave labor report.

An investigation conducted by the Associated Press released on 14 December has linked Thai Union Group to forced labor in Thailand once more.

AP investigators tailed a series of trucks in November that were transporting shrimp from the Gig Peeling Factory in Samut Sakhon to a number of major Thai exporting companies, one of which included a subisdiary of Thai Union. The shrimp peeling and processing plants were using forced and child labor to prepare the massive volumes of shrimp, according to the report.

Utilizing U.S. customs data and Thai industry reports, investigators were able to trace the shrimp to various locations in the United States, Europe and Asia, the report writers said. Major global supermarkets and foodservice chains including Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General, Petco, Red Lobster and Olive Garden were among the supposed recipients of the shrimp, the AP found. The shrimp also allegedly made its way into the supply chains of popular U.S. brands such as Beaver Street’s Sea Best, Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, noted AP reporters; retailers including Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons are known to sell such brands.

All 50 states in the United States potentially have retailers selling shrimp products linked to forced and child labor, according to AP reporters.

"I want to eliminate this," Dirk Leuenberger, CEO of Aqua Star, told the AP upon hearing of the investigation. "I think it's disgusting that it's even remotely part of my business."

Some retailers implicated in the report are confident that their shrimp products are not associated with the facilties in question.

"Red Lobster, Whole Foods and H-E-B Supermarkets, said they were confident — based on assurances from their Thai supplier — that their particular shrimp was not associated with abusive factories," wrote the AP reporters. [More detailed responses can be found here.]

Thai Union, which has had its supply chains linked to forced labor on multple occasions (New York Times and Associated Press), responded to the latest report from the AP: “Any illegal or unethical labour practices are unacceptable to Thai Union," Thai Union's chief executive Thiraphong Chansiri said in the statement. "This is yet another wakeup call not only to us, but to the entire industry."

Environmental and activist group Greenpeace has critiqued Thai Union regarding what it calls a history of narrow responses.

“The company does just enough to weather the PR storm while continuing to profit off the backs of the migrant workers forced to work throughout its supply chains,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar. “These latest allegations are especially disturbing because they suggest Thai Union knew about its forced labor issues and had an employee visiting an implicated factory on a daily basis. Clearly Thai Union cannot continue pleading ignorance to the forced labor in its supply chains. It’s going to take more than the bare minimum action to win customers’ trust back.”

It’s not only Thai Union that needs to take action, either, according to Greenpeace.

“Every single company involved must be held accountable for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering in miserable conditions – from those catching the seafood to the supermarkets selling it,” added Hocevar.

“This story casts significant further doubt about the extent to which both Thai Union and the Thai seafood sector as a whole are responding to these very serious issues,” concluded Hocevar. “The inaction by the entire industry and shiny PR moves are no longer acceptable. It is time for Thai Union and its buyers to audit and clean up every single link in their seafood supply chains – not just the one implicated in the latest of many investigations.”

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