Major U.S. Retailer Sued for Selling Slave Shrimp

A California shopper is seeking class-action status for a lawsuit against Costco.

(Photo: Shawn Campbell/Flickr)

Aug 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When it comes to food and ethics, it’s been one step forward, one step back lately for America’s second-largest retailer. In March, Costco was lauded for announcing that it would cut antibiotics important to human medicine from its poultry supply; then, in July, the chain was being called out by Brad Pitt, among others, for failing to meet its 2007 commitment switch to cage-free eggs. Now, Costco is facing a similar back and forth over seafood: Less than a month after shifting to Norwegian farmed-salmon producers to avoid Chilean fish raised with more antibiotics, Costco is being slapped with a class-action lawsuit for selling seafood produced by slave labor.

The suit alleges that Costco is knowingly selling farmed shrimp from Southeast Asia from producers involved with slave labor in the Thai fishing industry and fails to inform consumers of the product’s origin. It was filed by one consumer and is seeking class-action status Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California.

“Human suffering cannot be ignored to enhance a company’s economic bottom line,” Niall McCarthy, a lawyer for the plantiffs, said in a statement. “California consumers are unknowingly supporting slave labor.”

This is just the latest bit of news to highlight the dark reality of the most popular type of seafood in the United States. The Guardian, The Associated Press, and The New York Times have all published extensive investigations on the plight of enslaved seafood workers, many of whom are immigrants, which has helped raise awareness about the issue. Retailers linked to the slave shrimp, including Costco and Walmart, have responded with promises of audits, overhauls, and corrective action.

The lawsuit has Costco echoing those statements once again: “Costco Wholesale has been working with and will continue to work with various stakeholders (including the Thai government, other retailers and Thai industry) to address the issues that have surfaced,” the company said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Costco isn’t alone in its alleged lack of definitive action on the issue, however. Thailand has been included among the worst of the worst on the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report for two years running. But the country, a U.S. ally interested in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has not been subjected to the same sanctions as its infamous company, which includes North Korea and Syria.