The majority of our shrimp comes from the least ethical place to get shrimp.
I’m often asked by people, “What can I do to help combat human trafficking?” The answer, more often than not, isn’t what you can do but what you can stop doing.
Take shrimp for example. According to the USDA, Thailand is the top place where us Americans get our shrimp. And we are their largest export market for shrimp. No need for a drumroll here. These are a few things that often happen when a developed country wants to pay bare minimum to fulfill it’s massive cravings for a product from a country not nearly as developed: violence, exploitative labor, corruption and, yes, human trafficking.
Next month will be my second year here in Thailand and believe me I have wolfed down well beyond the average American’s four pounds of shrimp per year. Before I left the States I became increasingly aware of and interested in the origin of each product I consumed. Most foods are well-marked, ingredients are easy to read and even in a language I understand. Such things are so easily taken for granted. Here in Thailand I get great big bowls of soup with seemingly infinite ingredients (including ginormous tiger prawns) at dirt cheap prices. Do I wonder why it’s so cheap? Absolutely. But, admittedly, at a certain point I don’t care. I can’t care or else I would be consumed by what I consume. So I slurp down the soup and am on my way. When I do buy products with an ingredient list, my basic Thai reading ability doesn’t help much and if the product has an ingredient list in English it’s often imported – which means it’s too expensive for me to afford regularly and it stirs within me the other related issue of eating locally and sustainably. It’s tough and sometimes impossible to always eat ethically, but the trying should never stop. Here’s a great video about the Thailand/US shrimp relationship based on a collaboration between PBS and The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:
To close, here are the final lines from Human Rights Watch‘s article from September 2012 titled “Walmart’s Human Trafficking Problem“:
“Recommending greater U.S. involvement in fighting trafficking and labor rights abuses is not simply an appeal to altruism or a call for a more moral U.S. foreign policy. In the end, the U.S. government doesn’t have a choice in Asia. U.S. laws prohibit imports tainted by trafficking or forced labor. At the same time, Americans’ insatiable appetite for Asia’s cheaply produced goods and services—for products like Asian shrimp—dictate that U.S. trade policy needs to incorporate labor rights in Asia, with all its problems, into the economic and ethical equations of the day. The situation demands that both Walmart and the United States use their stature, and buying power, to better the lives of the workers who produce the products we consume.”