shrimp
Representational ImageWikimedia commons

A large-scale investigation spanning multiple continents has revealed that top seafood retailers and restaurants around the world were using products that were tainted with forced slave labour, originating from Thailand's seafood peeling factories.

The Gig Peeling Factory on the outskirts of Bangkok houses horrors made of nightmares. Here, the forced labourers work for 16 hours for little or no pay fearing violence from the overseers.

An Associated Press investigation revealed that Thai Union, the largest seafood supplier, employs the Gig Peeling Factory where a hundred Burmese people, including children, are kept under lock and key and forced to work for hours without end with their hands in cold water, tearing and shedding at the heads and tails of the shrimps.

Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, Australia's top retail grocery chains, have all said that they use Thai Union as suppliers for their retail stores.

"We will investigate this further with our supplier and seek advice from our NGO partners," The Guardian quoted Woolworths as saying. 

Australian retailer, IGA Supermarkets's supplier Metcash confirmed that it uses Thai Union as well.

"Some of our other locally based seafood suppliers may purchase prawns from Thai Union as they are one of the largest seafood suppliers in the world," a Metcash spokesman said.

In the US, the Red Lobster and Olive Garden, both restaurant chains as well as retail chains like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, have all confirmed using the Thai seafood supplier.

The seafood produce from Gig Peeling Factory gets mixed with products from other suppliers making it impossible to tell between tainted and ethically produced farm products.

According to UN and US standards, the whole produce then becomes tainted.

"They didn't let us rest," said 16-year-old Eae Hpaw, 16, a labourer at the factory, whose arms were lacerated with shrimp-related infections and allergies. "We stopped working around seven in the evening. We would take a shower and sleep. Then we would start again around three in the morning."

"I was shocked after working there a while, and I realised there was no way out," said Tin Nyo Win, 22. He and his wife were only paid US $4 per day for peeling 175 pounds of shrimp.

Europe and Asia, has been similarly importing products from Thai Union, the AP investigation revealed. Germany, Italy, England and Ireland were able to find products from Thailand in grocery stores there.

"I want to eliminate this," South China Morning Post reported Dirk Leuenberger, CEO of Aqua Star, a leading seafood supplier, as saying. "I think it's disgusting that it's even remotely part of my business."

"As the world's largest seafood restaurant, we know the important role we play in setting and ensuring compliance with seafood industry standards, and we're committed to doing our part to make sure the seafood we buy and serve is sourced in a way that is ethical, responsible and sustainable," Red Lobster said in a statement.

In 2015, Thailand had passed laws to come down heavily on the abuses by the seafood industry in the country, and to register migrant workers without papers to ensure their safety.