“...people are guilty if they eat shrimp that we peeled like slaves.”
December 14, 2015 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Global supermarkets selling shrimp peeled by slaves. by Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan [Associated Press]
Every morning at 2 a.m., they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No. 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States. After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants. Children worked alongside them, including a girl so tiny she had to stand on a stool to reach the peeling table. Some had been there for months, even years, getting little or no pay. Always, someone was watching. No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Tin Nyo Win was No. 31.
Related:
- Slavery taints global supply of seafood. [Associated Press]
- Myanmar fisherman goes home after 22 years as a slave. [Associated Press]
- AP tracks slave boats to Papua New Guinea. [Associated Press]
posted by Fizz (84 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
- Are slaves peeling your shrimp? Here's what you need to know. [Associated Press]
Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?
A: That's a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.
posted by Fizz at 5:11 PM on December 14, 2015


federal authorities say they can't enforce U.S. laws that ban importing goods produced by forced labor, citing an exception for items consumers can't get from another source
wat
posted by dmd at 5:12 PM on December 14, 2015 [89 favorites]


An exception for SLAVERY?
posted by 1adam12 at 5:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [50 favorites]


I am so glad that the chef I work for insists on Canadian sourcing, almost all of it ~100km sourcing. (Our scallops come from Nova Scotia though, which means we probably need to double check on how honest that source is.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a second generation immigrant what I want to know is why you want your shrimp peeled in the first place.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:18 PM on December 14, 2015 [32 favorites]


welp so much for shrimp in my diet
posted by kokaku at 5:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Labour slavery is the most boring thing to get people interested in. Sex trafficking, they'll make documentaries about, but labour trafficking is just business as usual. Sweatshops are easier because they get tied to the fashion trade. I'm glad to see this getting coverage, but it's just depressing.

We have someone leaving for Thailand to work for a fishing business soon, labor trafficking, leaving behind his family. There's a bunch of people just gone - went to Thailand, never came back, and every few months the Phnom Penh Post has a story about fishing trafficking victims rescued and returned, thin beaten and usually men.

There's no work for people without papers, protection and corruption, and there's no punishment and massive profit for people to exploit them, and no-one cares because it's cheap seafood, and it's behind closed doors and boring. Adult men and women, factory exploitation, dull dull dull.

If you want to do do something about this beyond not eating prawns, I don't know a Burmese or Thai equivalent, but the Cambodian human rights NGO that does very good work on this is Licadho, and they need support.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:26 PM on December 14, 2015 [73 favorites]


I realize it's probably irrational, but I find something particularly disgusting about the fact that some of this is going into pet food.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:28 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


What a terrible thing. Great journalism though.
posted by Coaticass at 5:29 PM on December 14, 2015


Jesus, the prices other people pay so we can live the way we do.
posted by paulcole at 5:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


A&C: "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident hit its stomach." - Upton Sinclair, about The Jungle.

Food issues are always going to make people care about the food's safety than anything else.
posted by Small Dollar at 5:37 PM on December 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


federal authorities say they can't enforce U.S. laws that ban importing goods produced by forced labor, citing an exception for items consumers can't get from another source

Yeah, wtf indeed. Can anyone more familiar with these exceptions specify which laws/exceptions the article is talking about?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:39 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Human trafficking from Myanmar is a big big problem in Thailand. Saw a documentary on ABC that essentially said there was an unacknowledged mass grave of Rohingya (well, let's use the right term here) slaves right opposite a local police headquarters in Thailand.

And then you have this: the most senior person investigating human trafficking in Thailand has just requested asylum in Australia, because he believes the chain goes all the way up to the top of the ruling military junta, well after the court observed this:“All 88 defendants together let victims starve, denied health treatments for sick victims and hid bodies on the mountain (camps) where they died”.
posted by the cydonian at 5:39 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here, but how do they sell the fish if it's stuck at sea with the crew/boat for years?
posted by telegraph at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Once again - not that I would ever eat pre-peeled frozen shrimp, but if I did - this is a thing that has nothing to do with me whatsoever. Corporations need to stop being evil, and governments need to stop being spineless. Anything beyond that is none of my concern and I refuse to feel guilty eating pre-peeled frozen shrimp (again, not that I would do this, mainly because shrimp trawling is decimating the oceans but also because I don't want to catch Ebola). Thanks.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:40 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


"I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here, but how do they sell the fish if it's stuck at sea with the crew/boat for years?"

off loading at sea to other ships...perhaps?
posted by HuronBob at 5:43 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Previously and previously
posted by I-baLL at 5:43 PM on December 14, 2015


A&C: "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident hit its stomach." - Upton Sinclair, about The Jungle.

Food issues are always going to make people care about the food's safety than anything else.
No, I mean that people are suffering so much to make food for animals, which probably don't care about the difference between eating shrimp and eating something else and which will undoubtably have much more comfortable, luxurious lives than the people producing their food ever will.

Like I said: not totally rational. Pets shouldn't be eating food made by slaves. People shouldn't be eating food made by slaves, either.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:48 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm totally with turbid dahlia on this one. The idea that "oops we can't help it, slaves are just good business" is completely unacceptable in modern society... Governments need to regulate and enforce this, consumers should not have to worry about slave derived products being sold legally in the marketplace. It is absurd.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [34 favorites]


Isn't it sort of a weird sentiment to avoid eating shrimp because trawling is bad for the environment (and you might get food poisoning), but not because it involves literal slaves preparing your food for you? That's not the objectionable part here? Am I missing something?
posted by teponaztli at 5:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [36 favorites]


Corporations need to stop being evil... and shrimp trawling is decimating the oceans

Plus why can't we have a fucking Law of the Sea* that regulates some of this stuff? Because the powers that be don't want any international agreements cutting into their God-given right to profit**, that's why.

*The shortest Wikipedia article in existence (for the sea! 3/4 of the Earth's surface!) should give you some idea how abhorrent capitalists and corporations find the concept.

**Some expletives removed. Please feel free to sprinkle your own in where appropriate.
posted by sneebler at 6:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


This makes me glad that I'm too cheap to pay the extra couple dollars a pound for the pre-peeled shrimp.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:07 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think that the "it's not my problem because governments should be doing something about it" stance is only morally tenable if you are taking concrete steps to make sure that governments are doing something about it. I'm all ears about what those would be.

Anyway, it makes me very glad not to like shrimp. But there are probably things that I eat that are produced in just as terrible conditions.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:08 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Yeah, wtf indeed. Can anyone more familiar with these exceptions specify which laws/exceptions the article is talking about?

Not an expert, but I'm guessing it's a law from 1930, 19 USC 1307:

All goods...produced......by convict labor or/and forced labor...shall not be entitled to entry at any of the ports of the United States, and the importation thereof is hereby prohibited...but in no case shall such provisions be applicable to goods...so mined, produced, or manufactured which are not mined, produced, or manufactured in such quantities in the United States as to meet the consumptive demands of the United States.
posted by jpe at 6:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is revolting - it makes me completely furious when I see those Red Lobster or some other fucking all you can eat lowest denominator chain commercials featuring endless shrimp. It feeds into the worst part of the restaurant business - where workers paid crap wages and suppliers ignore the cost to human lives and the environment just so that North Americans can fucking whoop it up with cheap seafood. First world mindless desire for cheap food and cheap clothes (I am looking at you Fast Fashion) and cheap fucking everything is literally killing people. I don't think Dicken's could have imagined how low things have gotten.
posted by helmutdog at 6:19 PM on December 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


The shortest Wikipedia article in existence (for the sea! 3/4 of the Earth's surface!) should give you some idea how abhorrent capitalists and corporations find the concept.

Or, y'know, actual governments (i.e. Japan continuing to slaughter whales under the rubric of "research")
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just started liking shrimp over the past few years, but given this story and others I've heard, I am not going to eat the peeled stuff any more and I'm leery of the shrimp still in the shell, too.

(I'm not ready to go vegetarian or vegan, but I have been trying to switch to a mostly-vegetarian diet with pastured eggs during the week and some humanely raised meat on the weekend, but then again, the dairy I eat is probably not perfectly virtuous, either. And while I have been aware that farm labour often gets the worst of it, it's the work that people do to produce meat and chicken that can be so shame-inducing.)
posted by maudlin at 6:35 PM on December 14, 2015


Man, I was so excited today about getting a two pound bag of 13-15 shrimp on sale for $15. I'm still going to make baked stuffed shrimp this weekend, because that's money already spent, but I'll feel a twinge of regret.

I feel pretty helpless, though. I already eat as ethically as I can afford. Between factory farms and labor practices, there is a hell of a lot wrong with the modern food industry. I know that. But I can't feed my family without supporting that food industry in some way.
posted by Ruki at 6:36 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


When I was in college I had a summer job that made us do this. My hands were numb and cut up by the end of the two hour prep time. I can only imagine the pain they are in.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 6:46 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


but also because I don't want to catch Ebola)
turbid dahlia

Que? Do you mean salmonella? Because you're not going to get Ebola from frozen shrimp.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:52 PM on December 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Global warming is going to turn all of your children into food slaves. Surprise, you thought it was going to be your grandchildren, I hope to hell we all get to see the pain in those faces before we die. At the very least, they deserve that knowledge.
posted by any major dude at 6:55 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]



This is revolting - it makes me completely furious when I see those Red Lobster or some other fucking all you can eat lowest denominator chain commercials featuring endless shrimp. It feeds into the worst part of the restaurant business - where workers paid crap wages and suppliers ignore the cost to human lives and the environment just so that North Americans can fucking whoop it up with cheap seafood.


The thing about Red Lobster - and I'm not trying to justify slave harvested shrimp by any means - is that for a lot of working class people, that's the "nice" restaurant that you go to for a treat. How do I know? Lo, I have been to Red Lobster - as a birthday treat when I was between the ages of ten and fourteen. We didn't have a lot of money, and things like crab or lobster were really special-occasion foods; so was shrimp - shrimp was for Christmas and my dad's birthday, and we knew how many shrimp each family member was entitled to. I got in trouble as a kid and I've always remembered the shame because I sneaked one shrimp out of the plate before dinner, and there were only four apiece.

Red Lobster was a huge thrill. When I visit my parents, who are now retired, we occasionally go to Red Lobster because it's one of few sit-down restaurants in town and my mom's health is such that a trip out to Red Lobster is pretty exciting. And the people I see at the Red Lobster aren't, like, stupid greedy Americans sucking down ten pounds of shrimp; they're the local proles out for the occasional nice dinner with grandma.

I still think that even the proletariat should stay away from slave-caught shrimp, and if that means no Red Lobster then so be it - but I think there's a persistent metafilter disconnect where we assume that all the low-class no-count prole-y chain places are frequented by dumb, greedy, terrible people, as if only good people were sitting down to $500-a-plate meals at some posh locavore spot in New York.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 PM on December 14, 2015 [165 favorites]


The State Department has not slapped Thailand with sanctions applied to other countries with similarly weak human trafficking records because it is a strategically critical Southeast Asian ally.

See also: Filling up your gas tank.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:05 PM on December 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


I still think that even the proletariat should stay away from slave-caught shrimp, and if that means no Red Lobster then so be it - but I think there's a persistent metafilter disconnect where we assume that all the low-class no-count prole-y chain places are frequented by dumb, greedy, terrible people, as if only good people were sitting down to $500-a-plate meals at some posh locavore spot in New York.

I totally sympathize, if only to note that shrimp prices appear to be kept low just about as efficiently as worker wages are.

This was a thing for me when the immigration rhetoric heated up after the Kate Steinle murder in SF. I remember thinking, "fine, if you want to build a wall or whatever to keep everybody out, then you don't get to pay illegal immigrant (so to speak) subsidized prices anymore: $30 lettuce for you, picked by college graduates." There is so much profit taking at the top that there is no money to pay shrimp processors nor dinner patrons alike. This is the national religion.
posted by rhizome at 7:21 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here, but how do they sell the fish if it's stuck at sea with the crew/boat for years?


I spent some time on a commercial fishing boat in southern California (sea urchins), and that fishery frequently relied on the services of a "Tender," which was a much larger vessel than the puny dive boats. For a cut, the Tender would deliver the catch to the harbor and return with fuel, food, whatever else (at cost plus some vig for the service). It was kind of a party as all the boats gathered nearby before pulling alongside to transfer the catch to the Tender. This arrangement worked out for the dive boats, as they could stay on the fishing grounds out at the Channel Islands every day the weather was good without losing a day to run in to offload and re-supply.

These Thai shrimpers are most likely doing something similar, perhaps offloading to a great big tender/processor.
posted by notyou at 7:23 PM on December 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


Well, I try to limit my shrimp intake due to the way it's either harvested with insane levels of bycatch or farmed in ways that might make you sick. But it was so damn tasty that I had a really hard time cutting it out entirely. Now, well, quite honestly, fuck tasty. Environment and my health be damned, these are people who are being treated terrible because I like tasty...? Nope. No more shrimp for this girl and headed to that donation link... it's a small step but one I can make.
posted by danapiper at 7:30 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


"I'm sure I'm missing something obvious here, but how do they sell the fish if it's stuck at sea with the crew/boat for years?"

off loading at sea to other ships...perhaps?


In the tuna trade at least, this is exactly what happens. Catching vessels stay out in the fishing grounds for months-years at a time, delivering frozen tuna etc. to the trampers that cross the oceans back and forth from major ports, and pick up fuel, oil, food, bait, clothes, porn, cigarettes etc.

The catching vessels are shady as shit, sometimes being renamed and registered while at sea. Old names are visible as bumps under the new coat of paint. The trampers aren't much better, flying "flags of convenience" from countries like Panama or Liberia, while being owned by shell corporations from Japan or wherever, officers not officially working for that company, and crew from various third world countries (Phillipines, Indonesia, China). Tough to figure out where any accountability lays.

Theoretically there's an international management system through treaty organizations enforcing quotas and sending observers to monitor boat operations. ICCAT in the Atlantic was the first, with IATTC, WCPFC, and IOTC following, for the Eastern Pacific, Western and Central Pacific, and Indian Oceans respectively. In my (short) experience as an observer on these vessels, this amounted to taking a visual estimated of how many tunas of what species were in each craneload carried over to the tramper along with the delivering ships ID and time and location of the transshipment. I can't speak for what's done with that data further up the chain.

It's wild out there, seen an Indonesian crewman left a stateless person and trapped on the ship until their next stop in Jakarta after his passport and seaman's card both expired while at sea, the ship diverted to Korea to drop off a Taiwanese captain before going to a mainland Chinese port, an intensely uncomfortable homoerotic Christmas karaoke party, video from the Russian navy forcibly stopping an illegal Chinese fishing vessel by dumping water down its exhaust... Recently an observer vanished at sea under suspicious circumstances so I'm pretty happy to be retired from that particular post.
posted by 3urypteris at 7:44 PM on December 14, 2015 [37 favorites]


I live in a coastal state with a large Italian-American community. I don't eat at Red Lobster or Olive Garden because I have other options. Many don't. Frowner is on point. Metafilter is really good at pointing out what's wrong with the food industry, but not so great at recognizing food inequality. I'm solidly upper middle class, but my food budget is finite, and like I said, I eat as ethically as I can afford, which is comparably a lot. Throwing money at ethically sourced food can only do so much, and it doesn't help the people who can't afford organic kale at all. Community gardens and farmers' markets accepting WIC is a start, but it's not enough. On a worldwide level, profit is more important than, you know, actually feeding people, and I just don't know what else to do.
posted by Ruki at 7:44 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm happy we were able to source our seafood from a guy in a truck who, pretty much, bought the fresh and unfrozen good/great stuff straight off the boat, drove from the gulf coast of Alabama to Memphis, TN once a week, and sold it for, if not cheap, then affordable rates if you treated it as a not everyday meal. That's a drive of quite a few hours in case you are wondering.

This was a straight up taste of home for me while we were up there for the wife's internship. I was really happy to see his business model supported by folks that understood the quality and, I hope, humanitarian and environmental reasons for choosing that over 'whole paycheck' or Costco or Kroger or, *shiver*, Walmart.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:50 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, here's the thing. That goddam internet of Things is getting so much traction not because it's going to mean light bulbs that send your bank accounts to the Chinese hackerati, but because industry is convinced (probably correctly) that it will make supply chain management a lot easier. If you can look across your complete input-output and see where things are not working well, you can focus your energy into efficiencies that actually count. And you get that visibility through instrumentation, standards and tools that you don't have to hand-craft for each detail. Which means that once critical mass is reached, as when TCP/IP got to critical mass,, anyone who doesn't play isn't going to get any business.

At least, that's the theory. Some companies like Apple have their suppy chain whipped but good, and that's one of the reasons Apple has so much money, but most companies aren't Apple and they like the idea that IoT can get them close. There's a lot of money and time being spent on this theory, and I wouldn't bet against it

So what happens when supply chains get instrumented? You and I, the end consumers, get to play as well - there will be a lot of resistance to that, but once the information's there to get at, then we too get the 'no play, no pay' option. Plus, it's a lot harder to argue that national regulators are being unfair when all they're asking for is more openness, so there's political upside to consumer states (that's us) actually using one of our real bargaining chips, even when we're net debtors in balance of trade.

This is a bit utopian, but the systems are being put into place (yay capitalism) and it is possible to think of, say, an app that looks at a barcode in a shop and tells you exactly where that came from, who made it happen and what their business practices are. You may then feel entitled to get your peeled prawns made by slaves because they're twenty cents cheaper than the fair-wage producers (or that offset carbon in transportation, or practise sustainable, or whatever). But you can no longer claim that you didn't know, and there's nothing you can do about it.

All this is possible, if we want it badly enough, and it's a consequence of what's going on anyway.
posted by Devonian at 7:53 PM on December 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is that I just assume that damn near every purchase I make while here in the good ole US of A is on the back of slave labourers and/or shitty deals for the most vulnerable among us.

So, knowing that, I just try to consume less of virtually everything, which helps but still isn't fine and dandy in my book.

Cue motto, 'Live simply so that others may simply live.' Or something...
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:55 PM on December 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was shocked to see frozen shrimp actually from Louisiana in my local the other day. I bought them.
posted by Max Power at 7:56 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, knowing that, I just try to consume less of virtually everything, which helps but still isn't fine and dandy in my book.
I mean, that's great, but you've got to eat something or you will die.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:02 PM on December 14, 2015


WooHoo!!! Finally one good thing that comes from my allergy to shrimp & shellfish - not supporting slave labour.
posted by asra at 8:12 PM on December 14, 2015


you've got to eat something or you will die.

Truer words were never spoken.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:34 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is horrible. Never been gladder that I've kept kosher my whole life.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:35 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, that sucks. Just two hours ago I picked up some fresh peeled shrimp on the way home. I'll ask at the market next time, but I'd bet they don't have a clue about their supply chain. I suppose unpeeled shrimp is automatically a better option. I'd rather have paid an extra few bucks, though . . .

Companies make this so friggin' opaque on purpose. And if something ever gets enough middle class attention, like the Bangladeshi roof collapse, the response is to move to another country that may be as bad but hasn't had a disaster. So you're always behind the curve--always.

Not the best book I read this year, but Erik Loomis' Out of Sight hammers on this. After the Triangle fire we banned a bunch of practices in the garment industry, but now it's so much harder to point to where the problem is and who to blame companies seem able to just glide past any possible accountability.
posted by mark k at 8:49 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


My vague understanding is that slavery is in a lot of our food and this is less about shrimp being worse, and more that these particular shrimp are the first case where enough of the supply chain dots have been connected to be able to start bringing some retailer names into the discussion.

Hopefully this will draw ongoing increased scrutiny to supply lines, as well as have enough impact that shrimp becomes the "first domino", but I suspect things are going to get nastier first, as slavers take increased measures to hide/protect their methods.
posted by anonymisc at 8:50 PM on December 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Never been gladder that I've kept kosher my whole life.

But it's not just shrimp. It's (probably) also your tuna, and many other oceanic fish. And on land, it's your chocolate and I don't know what else. Cashew nuts? Coffee? Those Italian tomatoes used for the nice pizza sauce, they were probably picked by something approaching slave labor. And so it goes.

What we need is thoroughly documented supply chains and a commitment to refuse undocumented or sketchy suppliers. Our food will cost more, and it may not be as nice, but we won't be eating off the backs of little kids.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:50 PM on December 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


It's basically impossible to participate in our modern, globalized economy and not benefit from modern, globalized slavery, of the debt bondage variety or even less savory types. Individual actions at the consumer level are not enough to have an impact -- how you benefit from slave labor may not be obvious enough that boycotting a product or a company would do any good.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:56 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


For years I have used the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch to help me make decisions about seafood choices. I never buy shrimp from asia for a host of reasons, and now I can add this one as well. Deplorable.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


For what it’s worth, World Bank: Extreme poverty 'to fall below 10%’.  Which doesn’t help the slaves at all, but perhaps things are nonetheless heading in the right direction.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:02 PM on December 14, 2015


Individual actions at the consumer level are not enough to have an impact

You can attempt to justify your irresponsible consumerism but IMO if you can live with yourself knowingly purchasing slave-made food or consumer crap… well, you're not a good person.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:13 PM on December 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


I mean, that's great, but you've got to eat something or you will die.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants?
posted by alex_skazat at 10:15 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


You can attempt to justify your irresponsible consumerism but IMO if you can live with yourself knowingly purchasing slave-made food or consumer crap… well, you're not a good person.

But I think the big take home message is it's not easy for a consumer to know the full history of the supply chain. And even if you think you do, you may be wrong. Patagonia got into hot water because of this.

We're all tapping away at computers here - are we all certain the supply chain for those raw materials isn't from an area of conflict? Wasn't the Apple/Foxconn thing a Thing?
posted by alex_skazat at 10:24 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Another voice joining the chorus for using Seafood Watch as an ethical seafood guide. There are little paper guides you can keep in your wallet and there is a smartphone app for iOS and Android platforms.

I'm also going to suggest that seafood CSAs may be an option for some. The cost breakdown for the option I have through my fish CSA is approximately $11.50 per meal, where "meal" = "fish entree for a family of three." (They claim it's enough seafood to feed two people for one meal, but we've always found that we can feed three full portions for two meals.) For $11.50 we get ridiculously fresh fish that's local to the area, and responsibly fished by local fishermen and fisherwomen. It's a luxury item in our budget, but we are the types of people who consider food and wine to be splurge-y items. And we spend a few other dinner meals during the week hitting up the excellent More-With-Less Cookbook for meal planning ideas.

Local seafood CSAs are a good way to help support diversified fishing operations, the same way farm CSAs support smaller farms. Here are some seafood CSAs in the SF Bay Area, one for Raleigh and Chapel Hill, one in NYC, one for Charleston (SC), Sitka Salmon Shares, which targets Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, an embarrassment of riches in Rhode Island ... I'm sure there are more if you're a determined Googler.

For other local fishy options in the U.S., there's also LocalCatch.
posted by sobell at 10:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


. IMO if you can live with yourself knowingly purchasing slave-made food or consumer crap… well, you're not a good person
So are you recommending suicide, complete self sufficiency, or just living with not being a good person?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:13 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh or (d) determined obliviousness
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:14 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can attempt to justify your irresponsible consumerism but IMO if you can live with yourself knowingly purchasing slave-made food or consumer crap… well, you're not a good person.

I haven't done so, and won't in the future. I try to consume as ethically as I can. The ability to consume ethically is constrained by how enmeshed slavery is in our economic infrastructure, such that consumer-side solutions might allow us moral contentment but won't do anything about slavery. We have to address the problem structurally, but to do that people have to actually know there is a problem. I keep a few copies of Disposable People to hand out to friends and acquaintances and students whenever I can.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:54 AM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Prawn fishing, and the subsequent peeling of the prawn, can happen hemisphere's apart. Thus fishing origin does not discount slave labour involvement.

really, was it nine years ago I read that article? I bet not much has changed, except the worsening situation for the Rohinga, the displaced border people, and other refugees.
posted by Thella at 1:07 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


What we need is thoroughly documented supply chains and a commitment to refuse undocumented or sketchy suppliers. Our food will cost more, and it may not be as nice, but we won't be eating off the backs of little kids.

What I would love is for vendors to take a hit for peddling illegal substances or contracting to companies doing illegal things. We have laws here in Aus around corporate malfeasance (only a couple of em, mind) where the C-suite + Board can be personally held criminally responsible for certain actions that occur at a company under their charge, whether they did it or not.

Given so much contracting/sub-contracting in particular was created to essentially dodge labour laws and is a bloody rat's den of corporate malfeasance, I don't see why couldn't extend the principle. Except the victims in the former are usually powerful, and in the latter are usually not.
posted by smoke at 2:41 AM on December 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


irresponsible consumerism

I agree that once aware we should make our politicians know this is something we do not want. But duh! There are zero people who are seeking out the slavery-based products, it is distance from the problem and obfuscation (and governments with fucking weasely laws like we've seen in thread) that allows this to continue.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:57 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


Apparently back in the day pirates in the Atlantic and Caribbean had a simple method to determine what to do with officers of ships they captured. Apparently, standard practice was to just ask the crew of the captured ship what they should do with the officers.

I mean I could type out a thing but really I just wanna skip straight to the tl;dr and say that this is yet another case where some good old fashioned piracy would be great.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:01 AM on December 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


Maybe we should start taking responsability for making our own products from local materials and building supportive communities to assist each other with the task. We are part of the same system throwing its hands up and laying the blame on others for our own participation. Supply chains that far away are hard to manage. Foraging, forest gardening, and communiy gardens are all arts that sustained humanity for thousands of years, and many communities still survive. Maybe we could learn from them. The fact it is hard does not mean it isn't doable, and avoiding facing doing our own labor just means it will be passed off to some one more vulnerable. Change doesnt happen over night, and its hard, but we can do more if we at least start valuing and trying where we can.
posted by xarnop at 4:57 AM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I know a heart surgeon who will eat eggs and milk and he will not touch shrimp because he says it is the single worst cholestorol-genic food in the grocery store. I have seen gigabytes and gigabytes about food and cholesterol and would love to know what (if any of it) is trustworthy but I got that one data point here.
posted by bukvich at 5:21 AM on December 15, 2015


Mefi's own TLP sums up the consumer angle nicely. If you knowingly put a dollar in a slaver's pocket, you support slavery. It is your problem, and there is no escape:

Now add a few more individuals. I want an ipad, but I can’t afford the $10000 it would cost to make it in America AND generate to Apple the same nominal profit of $300/ipad, so then the ipad has to be made in China with cheaper labor. So while one can say, “the consumer wants an ipad,” and “Apple wants $300 in profit per ipad” the sum of those wants is “the system”: “The system wants cheap Chinese labor.” The system doesn’t want it because it’s awesome, it wants it because it added up the wants.

To be clear, the fact that ipad consumers don’t “want” cheap Chinese labor is irrelevant. All of their choices want cheap Chinese labor. You can say the same about renewable energies, something that everyone says they “want,” yet all of their choices sum up to the system’s want: the system wants to protect the oil industry. The CEO of ExxonMobil isn’t to blame, you are.

posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:59 AM on December 15, 2015 [5 favorites]



What I would love is for vendors to take a hit for peddling illegal substances or contracting to companies doing illegal things. We have laws here in Aus around corporate malfeasance (only a couple of em, mind) where the C-suite + Board can be personally held criminally responsible for certain actions that occur at a company under their charge, whether they did it or not.


You know, I bet that if C-suite executives were held liable - or if there were large, meaningfully-enforced, per-incident fines for the use of slave labor - then we'd find that somehow, somehow these businesses would still manage to sell products and make a profit of some sort.

As an anarchist, naturally I would prefer some kind of decentralized, localish, syndical, etc etc society.

However, absent that, it seems pretty clear that the solution has to come NOT from expecting every single human to make the correct, expensive, moral choice every time but from smacking down the people who actually run these systems, and smacking them down good and hard. Let them figure out how to make their profits - some other way than buying and reselling slave-caught fish. Start with the people who actually deal with the levers of power - it's way more efficient than deciding who is the worst human ever for making holiday shrimp cocktail.

If you've got a state, work on leveraging the powers of the state, that's what I say - there's no sense in having the worst of both worlds.

Publicity and boycotts are only useful in forcing the hands of the powerful - sure, everyone who can should boycott slave-caught fish, but not everyone will, and not all because they're terrible humans.

If you're thinking that boycotts will be the mechanism for real social change, I think an interesting example is the sugar boycott campaign in the British abolitionist movement. It was intermittently effective and no doubt contributed to the victories of the movement, but even though "just don't buy sugar until the plantations stop using slaves" sounds very simple, it wasn't, and that wasn't what happened.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 AM on December 15, 2015 [12 favorites]


However poor a free person is, a slave in a worse state. Even the poorest can't justify dependence on slave labor.

How many in the south felt that they just couldn't survive without slave labor, so therefore it's ok? Really, even if you have to face the possibility of health problems from starving, it's still not ok to take slaves to fix it. Try to fix it, but not with slavery.

Starving people will have the least capacity to manage their desperate urges as will the poorer among us and yes, we must have grace for the urges that bring us to our worst deeds in desperate times, but to simply say individuals as a whole have no power and it's only up to those with power to decide they feel like fixing this misses the mark.

We have to take responsibility for the harm of our behavior, even if we were desperate and didn't mean to cause harm.

If we start building our own networks of needed goods at the local level we have more power to fight systemic injustice, to say no to corrupt industries feeding on our weakness and desperation, and more power to say no to getting our own money from serving harmful industries. If an entity is interfering with our ability to form a relationship with nature and make our own goods from the land, we could learn from and join forces with indigenous communities already fighting this battle.

How many of the people who are slave owners have been close to desperate poverty themselves or came from it? If we are going to excuse people from striving for goodwill toward their fellow humans just because they face difficulty it's not long before we see the origins of all vice and can find ourselves compassionately understanding all of it. Which is fine, but compassion for what leads to harmful behavior is not the same thing as permitting it, whether at the individual or systemic level. Both those levels feed off each other and are part of each other. We must address both.
posted by xarnop at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2015


Like with so many things, the beast we see so clearly when we look at others becomes an understandable and sympathetic character when we try to understand the same urges, desperation, harmful wants, and lack of control within ourselves.

The battle of the monsters without is too often very similar to the battle with the monsters within. And to fight this beast we must see clearly both the horrors, the wrongful justifications of harm and also the pain and helplessness driving harmful behaviors, that we may open the doors to new behaviors not only for ourselves but for our enemies as well if at all possible.
posted by xarnop at 6:51 AM on December 15, 2015


I mean, that's great, but you've got to eat something or you will die.

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants?


maybe not plants.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just the thing to read after I had a shrimp tostada salad last night. I have given up buying seafood based foods for my cats because of this issue, but I wasn't thinking about it when I was ordering at El Pollo Rico. Sigh.
posted by tavella at 9:54 AM on December 15, 2015


A lot of the problem, especially in North America, is (paradoxically) the advent of reliable refrigeration and freezing. We have, in less than a century, become utterly entitled to eating whatever we want, whenever we want it, without any regard for locality, seasonality, or the consequences of shipping shrimp from Thailand and limes from Peru to our front doors.

The thing that made our food supply safer and more reliable is exactly what perpetuates slave labour.

The other part of the problem is that only the (relatively) wealthy can afford to only eat local/sustainable/ethical; food production is expensive, and those of us without tons of disposable income have two choices: grit our teeth and eat something from halfway across the globe (or closer to home...) that was produced by people working in appalling conditions, or starve. I mean sure, if you don't live in an urban area, local food is cheaper. If you're in an urban area and have a garden you can grow veg (and in some places have a couple of chickens) yourself. Or even some tomatoes on the balcony. I have neither a garden nor a balcony, so... yeah.

We'd fix parts of this problem with better urban planning. Parks are lovely and useful, and there's no reason why we can't repurpose parts of them into more community gardens. Especially the open areas around apartment buildings (there's one just down the street from me with a big community garden that always looks like it's bursting at the seams). There's incredibly long waiting lists for community garden plots here in Toronto, which suggests a demand that needs to be filled. Hell, why don't more schools have vegetable gardens? Valuable educational resource.

The bottom line, though, is that we need to get the hell over our sense of entitlement to eating shrimp whenever we want. And we're not going to. Which means people are still going to be used as slaves just so we can have a shrimp fucking cocktail for $10.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:21 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


... seen an Indonesian crewman left a stateless person and trapped on the ship until their next stop in Jakarta after his passport and seaman's card both expired while at sea, the ship diverted to Korea to drop off a Taiwanese captain before going to a mainland Chinese port, an intensely uncomfortable homoerotic Christmas karaoke party, video from the Russian navy forcibly stopping an illegal Chinese fishing vessel by dumping water down its exhaust...

This feels like reality caught up with a William Gibson novel.
posted by theorique at 1:36 PM on December 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


We can also grow vegetables! You can grow veggies on your porch in pots, or even inside your house! For those who have yards, you can grow a lot yourself, not enough, but enough to supplement and maybe need to buy less food at the store allowing more ethically sourced goods when bought at the store.

And yes we need to help those with less income get access to ethically sourced foods, for those who have more power this includes both fighting to get that done through putting pressures on the powers that be, continuing to vote with ones dollars, and participating in grassroots initiatives to help low income people access locally grown and ethically sourced foods (many of whom lack a yard and have disabilities or other difficulties growing or tending a garden).
posted by xarnop at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


RolandOfEld -I guess what I'm saying is that I just assume that damn near every purchase I make while here in the good ole US of A is on the back of slave labourers and/or shitty deals for the most vulnerable among us

Unfortunately this is very likely to be true. A recent publication in the UK concluded that no mainstream business in the UK is free from the taint of slavery. Whether it is the people washing the pots at the restaurant or somewhere further removed from the consumer, there is suffering and slavery in the supply chain.
posted by asok at 4:01 PM on December 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is a bit utopian, but the systems are being put into place (yay capitalism) and it is possible to think of, say, an app that looks at a barcode in a shop and tells you exactly where that came from, who made it happen and what their business practices are.

The Utopia Algorithm:* "One person who's spotted the beneficial potential of Ethereum is Jessi Baker. She was working on her computer science PhD in supply chain data when she heard about block chains and Ethereum, back in 2013. She took a break to found Provenance to offer what she calls 'block chain-powered product histories'. The idea is simple: give people a way to see how the things they buy are made. Provenance, a small team based in north London armed with angel investment, plans to use Ethereum[*] to make opaque supply chains transparent[*]... Provenance is starting small with a dozen or so of what Jessi calls 'good suppliers' who want to demonstrate to customers how their products are made and workers are treated, including a fashion retailer whose supply chain spans the globe. But who knows where next? If the frozen food company Findus had used Provenance, we'd have known exactly where, or what, that lasagna meat had come from. Palm oil? Supermarket produce? Perhaps even refugees?"

that's the (idyll?) dream, but a look at the reality so far -- Ceramic Bluetooth Speaker, Recycled British Boardshorts, Wild Rubber Trainers, which are all fine and great -- begs the question (in nonstandard terminology) about how getting this to scale -- to global aquaculture -- is, as they say, nontrivial. i'm sure baker is completely aware of this and has an idea about 'high end' bootstrapping, like elon musk is trying to do with tesla's roadster/model s to the 'e' and 'y' or whatever, but relying on consumer preferences to demand knowledge of where and how stuff is made often takes a back seat to 'affordability' (in dollars and cents, rather than the moral sense), which is why people eat at red lobster. but maybe chipotle (up until recently?) demonstrates otherwise; i dunno...

anyway, this is just a long way of saying that i disagree that capitalism or the market 'discipline' of consumer choice necessarily puts into place the systems of accountability needed to rein in negative social and environmental consequences (externalities). like a high price for fish just makes it more likely that the last fish will be sold to the highest bidder. you can go back to marxian concepts of how fucked up things can get when exchange value takes precedence over use value (money as an end in itself), but you can also go back further to adam smith's theory of moral sentiments:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
or in other words, like david graeber has said, economic and moral values are incommensurable; markets are fine for the exchange of stuff but still need to be regulated by a higher moral authority and unless someone can come up with something better than democracy (that isn't some fascist 'dark enlightenment'), that's all we have to go by... the problem is that it seems like the present neoliberal order is all about throwing sand in the gears of democracy, then pointing out gov't isn't working and bypassing it altogether in the interests of capital -- deregulation and privatization -- because look who the 'value creators' are. why aren't we insisting that slavery shouldn't be a part of the 'value' chain; does the TPP cover that?* payment systems[*] and provenance aren't being incorporated into the govt's regulatory apparatus because it cuts into corporate profits rents derived from social and environmental degradation; how else to explain the current criminal justice system, military industrial complex/ongoing foreign policy fuckups, fisheries collapse and planetary despoilment?

so to cut this burgeoning rant short, let me end with the more level-headed and constructive cosma shalizi on john dewey's The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry, which i just discovered from his write up on manuel delanda...
"The public" exists, potentially, whenever there are serious and persistent externalities; it consists of those who are on the receiving end of the resulting market failures. The public organizes itself to regulate those externalities; these specialized organs and officers constitute government, or the state. (Cf. ibn Khaldun.) The implementation of all this, and the monitoring of those officers, raises problems of collective action; but prior to this is a problem of collective cognition, of recognizing that these externalities exist and deciding intelligently, that is, with regard to concrete consequences, what to do about them. The great problem of the public is finding modes of organizing itself, and its inquiries into what should be done, which are consonant with the modern scope of externalities and interdependence brought about by industrialization.
posted by kliuless at 6:44 PM on December 15, 2015 [11 favorites]


If an entity is interfering with our ability to form a relationship with nature and make our own goods from the land, we could learn from and join forces with indigenous communities already fighting this battle.

I'll go sign up with my local druids.

Or less sarcastically, there are parts of the world where what you're recommending is neither relevant nor possible.
posted by Dysk at 8:13 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or less sarcastically, there are parts of the world where what you're recommending is neither relevant nor possible.

Well, at least Remember the Diggers.
posted by alex_skazat at 10:48 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tonight, December 16, one of the authors of this report is doing an AMA on Reddit.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 7:50 PM on December 16, 2015


Well, at least Remember the Diggers.

The extent to which the Diggers (or indeed practically anyone by that point in history) can be said to be an "indigenous community" in Britain is limited.
posted by Dysk at 12:47 AM on December 17, 2015


Well many of indigenous communities now have online presence so you can learn from them, many write books as well. We won't be able to generate all our own needs by ourselves, and I personally am not opposed to the use of technology to help us, but my question is what is the process to produce that technology and what state is the environment and the workers left in the make it. We need to learn to make human tech with responsible components and production methods and we need to start working on that closer to home, just my opinion. I agree that markets need to be regulated and that we need a form of infrastructure to enforce those regulations- but I think being able to even with a change in government structure we are going to need to change the face of labor and production in some major ways that will require us to challenge our current expected way of living.

No one is expected to do things they are not able to do as a result of personal limitation or resource limitations. Do what you can do, however small, because it's literally all you can do. But small things really can add up and small steps can lead to the growth of new abilities.

That's the beauty of harm reduction, it understands the multifaceted reasons for dependence on harmful behaviors and ways of life at the individual level and can be applied at the cultural level to bring more compassion for how awful we've gotten, facing the reality of the harms, ceasing to have an all or nothing mentality and allow us to celebrate small achievable goals without perfection being the enemy of the good.
posted by xarnop at 5:26 AM on December 17, 2015


Well many of indigenous communities now have online presence so you can learn from them, many write books as well.

You seem to have missed my point, which was that due to the history of invasions the UK has been subject to, there is no such thing as an indigenous UK community. What you're proposing may well be relevant to where you live, but it is not universally relevant or applicable.
posted by Dysk at 5:51 AM on December 17, 2015


Ah, I still think you're mistaking my meaning. To many who describe themselves as indigenous there is a difference between being part of a particular race and being indigenous and shaking the colonialist mindset out of you.

I'm talking about joining forces with indigenous communities who are asking for international help (THAT INCLUDES YOU!) to battle colonialism and helping them win those battles will increase the ability of people within capitalistic nations to battle colonialist policies within their own nations.

I'm pretty sure we're not even speaking the same language here- because the battle to help those who want to live in harmony with nature and make responsible land use and to stop larger government entities interfering with this process does not in my mind have to do with whether you have an indigenous population within your nations borders. You can create one. Populations have been migrating and changing over time on all continents, the different between indigenous and colonialist is not your blood but your attitude. Blood might make a difference in the sense of where your ancestors most recently have developed a relationship with the land and what rights may be associated with respecting people/land relationships that have already ben established. I'm going to try to find some links for you so maybe someone that describes it better than I can can explain what I'm trying to say better, because while you may disagree with me, I'm pretty sure we're not currently even having the same conversation.

Funny you mention druidry because many see a parallel between the re-emergence of druidry and Europian nations recovering from the invasions and colonialism perpetuated on and by their own nations.

" Both maintained their spiritual practices underground and both are seeing a resurgence of their practices and ways. Lynde said, “Even today as the old ways appeared to have been tamped down by Christianity, they are reemerging. You are seeing a lot more pow wows here, and for the Irish, they are going back to their old ways and even talking about the druids.”

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/16/10-stunning-similarities-between-irish-and-native-historic-experiences-159588
posted by xarnop at 6:59 AM on December 17, 2015


All people should have or be fighting for the right to use the local land in their area to grow and harvest items to produce necessities themselves, learning how the ancestral people of the area learned to live off the land, improving that process with RESPONSABLE tech improvements- but the issue is when our goods are being produced on others lands we don't care about the deforestation or the pollution the same as if it's being done in our neighborhoods- and some have forgotten what it's even like to have trees and nature around you and how important it is for our health because of how destructive current building practices are in some areas and the people feel helpless to fight back even if they want something different.

Part of generating the power to fight back is relearning how to do these things ourselves as individuals and communities and to push back against large entities designing our world based on profits and efficiency and ease for them at the expense of everyone else. Creating local companies that produce with respect for workers and the earth that we can oversee ourselves and making trade from a position of having a buffer of needed items and service being produced at the local level.
posted by xarnop at 7:11 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


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