Non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch reports that despite repeated investigations into Thailand’s billion-dollar seafood industry, which supplies countries all over the world, its slave labor practices remain rampant.
Along with Thai officials, activists, United Nations representatives and local residents of fishing ports, Human Rights Watch documented the cases of hundreds of migrant fishermen from Burma and Cambodia. According to HRW, workers are trafficked into fishing, prevented from changing employers, not paid on time and paid below the minimum wage. They also do not qualify for labor law protections or hold the right to form a labor union. HRC’s Asia director referred to the Thai government’s efforts to crack down on these illegal operations “largely cosmetic,” stressing the urgent need for strictly enforced legislation.
The full 134-page report, as well as this short film highlighting the myriad plights of the Thai fishing industry’s forced laborers, were presented at a meeting of the European Parliament on January 23rd.
So what can you do to avoid unwittingly contributing to this toxic chain? We penned a report of our own two years ago in response to the Associated Press’ investigation of the global shrimp supply. Here’s our advice for keeping your conscience clean.
1. Buy domestic wild shrimp.
Chef Dave Pasternack, also known as the “fish whisperer” for his skill with seafood, says that he when he heads to his market, he asks for fresh shrimp from the Gulf Coast or the Carolinas. Sean Dimin, cofounder of Sea to Table, which connects fisherman with chefs, added that customers can also ask for fresh shrimp from states such as Oregon and Alaska.
2. If you can’t buy domestic shrimp, try shrimp from these countries.
Terzoli says that if he can not buy wild American Gulf shrimp, he asks for Argentine red shrimp or Mexican blue or brown shrimp. “There would be no slave labor involved in any of those,” he says.
3. Avoid frozen shrimp unless you find this in the label.
Dimin says it can be really difficult to avoid frozen shrimp because that’s the way most shrimp is caught and packaged at sea. When he feeds his family frozen shrimp, he looks for domestic, wild-caught shrimp that lists only the following ingredients: shrimp and water. He notes that sodium tripolyphosphate must be listed as an additive if it’s used in shrimp’s preparation. So you can check for it before you buy.
4. Don’t be afraid of black ends on the fins of your shrimp.
That could be a sign that the shrimp is very healthy, says Terzoli. This sort of coloration is often covered up by sodium tripolyphosphate.
5. Check out some of the newer experimental, farm-raised types of shrimp.
Some chefs are becoming converted to farm-raised shrimp as a tasty alternative. Late last year, Chris Sherman, president of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts, started to distribute shrimp to restaurants in Boston and New York City from a nearby farm in Stoughton called Sky 8. Sherman says that shrimp seems to thrive better in farm-raised conditions, unlike other types of seafood, such as salmon. “It’s a pampered life in the farm,” Sherman says. He now sells Sky 8’s shrimp to New York City’s acclaimed Mission Chinese.
6. Expect to pay for shrimp like you would more luxurious types of seafood.
The comfort of knowing that your shrimp is the wholesome kind usually comes at a higher cost, Sherman says. He notes that restaurants are paying about $20 per pound wholesale for Sky 8’s shrimp, and that higher premium is often passed on to diners. On his own menu, Sherman charges $4 each for shrimp cocktail and his head-on Stoughton shrimp entrée with Anson Mills Blue Grits and house-cured bacon costs $33.