Lawsuit accuses Costco of selling shrimp fed by slave labor

August 19, 2015
San Francisco Chronicle

Retail giant Costco sells imported shrimp that were fed by slave labor in Thailand, lawyers in San Francisco charged Wednesday in a consumer lawsuit that seeks a halt to the imports and demands refunds for its California customers.

“California consumers care about the origins of the products they purchase,” attorneys said in the proposed statewide class-action suit in U.S. District Court. “Consumers do not wish to knowingly purchase a product that is derived from, manufactured or otherwise created or made available through the use of slavery.”

Costco get its imported supply of shrimp, which it sells as frozen prawns and in wonton soup, from a Thai company, Charoen Pokhpand Foods or CP Foods, the suit said. CP Foods, also named as a defendant, uses “trash fish” hauled from Thailand’s coastal waters by unpaid migrant workers to feed the shrimp, the suit said.

Held captive by traffickers who pocket their wages, the laborers, many of them Burmese, work as long as 20 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes while shackled, the suit said. Some former slave laborers have reported being whipped and electrically shocked and seeing co-workers jump overboard.

Evidence collected for the suit focused on Costco, but other U.S. companies sell the prawns, and more suits may follow, said Niall McCarthy, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“The tainted supply chain which starts with defendant CP Foods ultimately leads directly to the California shelves of Costco, and unwittingly onto the dinner plates of millions of Californians,” the suit alleged.

“Costco, as one of the largest companies in the world, is able to dictate the terms by which shrimp are produced and supplied to it,” the suit said. Costco “publicly represents that it does not tolerate human trafficking and slavery in its supply chain,” the suit said, and should be held to its words.

No one at Costco was available for comment.

The U.S. and world bodies have repeatedly condemned Thailand, the world’s third-largest exporter of seafood, for human trafficking, the suit said. It cited the State Department’s Aug. 6 report that placed Thailand among the worst trafficking countries and included a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry condemning the “enslavement of fishermen in Southeast Asia.”

The nonprofit Environmental Justice Foundation has documented the Thai seafood industry’s use of slave labor, the suit said. It also said the Guardian newspaper in London, in a lengthy investigation last year, had found human rights abuses in the Thai seafood industry and singled out Costco and Walmart as selling prawns produced by slave labor. Walmart is not a defendant in the suit.

Thailand has repeatedly promised to crack down on slave labor and trafficking but has failed to keep its word, leaving commercial fishing in its waters as an “unregulated industry” controlled by criminals, the suit said... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)