Costco Faces Lawsuit Over Slavery In Prawn Supply

August 25, 2015
Care2

Monica Sud is fed up with hearing that the prawns she has purchased from Costco are the result of slave labor, so she is taking action.

Sud is the plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed on August 19 in San Francisco to prevent the membership-based store Costco from selling prawns (generally called shrimp in the U.S.) unless they are labeled as the produce of slavery.

She cited various reports, including several by the London-based Environmental Justice Foundation, in her lawsuit; as a purchaser of Costco’s shrimps, she is seeking class action status on behalf of similar California consumers.

On Sud’s behalf, three California law firms are seeking an injunction against Costco and Charoen Pokphand (CP) foods, its Thai seafood supplier, alleging that Costco has for years knowingly bought farmed prawns from this Thai company and others, a supply chain involved with slavery.

“Human suffering cannot be ignored to enhance a company’s economic bottom line,” lawyer Niall McCarthy, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, said in a statement. “California consumers are unknowingly supporting slave labor.”

In response, a spokesman for Costco said in a statement that the company has been working closely with the Thai government, the Thai fishing industry and other retailers “to address the issues that have surfaced” over the past year. He added that any consumers who are dissatisfied with a Costco product “can return the item for a full refund.” Hum, I think he missed the point.

 Imported Shrimp: Bad For Health And For Human Rights

There have long been suspicions about how healthy it is to consume imported shrimp, which is on the Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch List to “Avoid” at all costs. That’s because less than two percent of all imported seafood is inspected, which means that imported shrimp often contains antibiotics, cleaning chemicals used in farmed shrimp pens, residues of toxic pesticides banned in the U.S. and pieces of insects. 

But now it’s clear that we should be avoiding imported shrimp for human rights reasons, as well as for health reasons.

Two years ago, I wrote here about a briefing paper produced by Warehouse Workers United (WWU) and the International Labor Rights Forum (LRF), which alleged serious violations of human rights including illegal use of unpaid and underage workers at the Thai shrimp producer Narong Seafood. The company was a major supplier of Walmart and a leading shrimp processor for the U.S. market.

Investigators found that factory inspections were always announced in advance and cursory; that wages were illegally slashed after a slowdown; and that undocumented foreign workers were charged exorbitant fees for work papers.

Following this, an investigation by The Guardian in 2014 found that the world’s largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based CP, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves.

Fishery Workers Beaten, Tortured, Forced To Work 20-Hour Days

How do you define slavery?

The Guardian researchers also discovered that large numbers of Burmese and Cambodian immigrants are forced to work 20-hour days on Thai and Indonesian boats, and that they endure beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some of these men are kept at sea for years at a time, and are forced to take methamphetamines to keep them going.

Actually, when called on this, CP Foods (which supplies both Costco and Walmart) conceded that slavery is part of the supply chain and promised to reform the way they operate. But apparently that’s not happening... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)