SAN FRANCISCO — All across the U.S. and Europe, people eat shrimp peeled by slaves. As the AP found in an investigation last year, hundreds of migrants are kept trapped in warehouses in Thailand, forced to peel shrimp for hours on end and sleep in filthy dorms. The workers’ papers are confiscated so they can’t leave, and they make about $4 for each 15-hour workday. When one of the workers the AP interviewed tried to escape, her boss dragged her back by her hair.
Shrimp from factories like these ended up in the supply chains of Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden, the AP found.
The industry is fueled by corruption and lax law enforcement in Thailand, but also by Western grocery shoppers’ tastes. Shrimp is now the most popular seafood Americans eat. But we prefer it peeled, so suppliers are cutting corners to deliver stir-fry-ready shrimp on the cheap.
“Americans love shrimp because of its low price and conduciveness to being heavily breaded and fried,” said Emily Balsamo, a research analyst at Euromonitor International. “Most consumers are not aware of the [slavery] issue and continue to consume shrimp.”
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Two years ago, Dominique Barnes, the founder of a startup called New Wave Foods, was growing increasingly concerned about the environmental and human-rights costs of fresh seafood. She studied everything from overfishing to water pollution as a grad student in marine conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.