The shrimp industry generally consists of shrimp fry collection, shrimp raising on farms, and then shrimp processing post-harvest. The highest risk of worker exploitation occurs within the shrimp fry collection and shrimp processing sectors.
Shrimp larvae are known as shrimp fry. For shrimp farmers to produce shrimp, they must either collect shrimp fry from wild sources like estuaries, or buy shrimp fry from hatcheries.
Despite environmental laws banning the practice, shrimp fry are more often wild caught than hatchery grown. Wild fry collection is labor intensive as workers spend all day in the sun wading through murky water with little to no protective equipment. Investigations into wild fry collection in Bangladesh have found evidence of widespread child labor and bonded labor. To read more about the salient human rights issues in wild shrimp fry collection. See Risk Geographies: Bangladesh
Once the mature shrimp have been grown and harvested, they are sent to processing facilities where they are cleaned, deveined, and peeled by hand. Evidence of human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor is prevelant in many shrimp processing facilities globally. In the worst cases, shrimp processors are trafficked to and enslaved in these facilities. An AP investigation into shrimp peeling factories in Thailand found hundreds of migrant workers trapped at a shrimp processing facility called the Gig Peeling Factory. These workers, many of them women and young children from Myanmar, had been tricked and sold by traffickers to the facility. The workers were forced to work for little or no pay, and, in some cases, were found to be enslaved there for years.
The AP article illustrated the laborious and abusive conditions of shrimp processing. Workers spent all day on their feet with their hands in ice buckets as they peeled and cleaned the shrimp. Workers were found to have many cuts and infections on their hands and arms, as well as allergic reactions to the shrimp. On top of grueling hours under constant surveillance—without adequate breaks, nutrition, resting facilities, or medical attention—workers were subject to both physical and psychological abuse. The AP found that bosses confiscated official worker identification and threatened to call the police if workers didn’t follow orders.
The AP tracked shrimp peeled in this facility to exporters that served major brands in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in Asia. Investigations by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) also found evidence of human trafficking, child labor, physical and psychologial abuse, document retention, and wage witholding within Thai shrimp processing facilities. EJF estimates that there are twice as many shrimp peeling facilities as those registered with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries. This means many operations are unregulated and ungoverned and workers thus have no legal protections from exploitation.