Bad Cocktail: Labor Abuse in Thailand’s Shrimp Industry America's appetite for inexpensive shrimp from Southeast Asia is growing, but at what cost? In Thailand, illegal and abusive labor practices go unchecked to feed a booming demand. Launched September 20, 2012
Shrimp is big business in Thailand, thanks to an appetite in the United States that continues to grow. Today, a third of country’s exported shrimp goes to the U.S., its top customer, where retail giants like Walmart and Costco do high-volume sales and suburban Red Lobsters offer bargain blue plate specials. Breakthroughs in aquaculture have helped Thai producers keep up with the rising demand, but there’s a catch to their success: an invisible underclass of Burmese migrant workers, thousands of whom labor in sub-human conditions to keep costs down.
Of the estimated 200,000 Burmese migrants working in Samut Sakhon province, the heartland of the Thai shrimp industry, about a third are unregistered and subject to rights abuses. Independent monitors say that thousands desperate to escape the poverty and dictatorship of their homeland cross the border only to find themselves trapped in bonded labor that’s tantamount to slavery. Sold by brokers to crooked factory owners, they are forced to endure long hours for pitiful wages, physical abuse and intimidation. Many are children who do not meet Thai working age requirements. Their plight is made worse, critics say, by the profit-induced apathy of Thai authorities who turn a blind eye or are complicit in abuses. Steve Sapienza and Jason Motlagh investigate exploitative labor practices at the lower levels of the supply chain.
Jason Motlagh is a writer, photographer and filmmaker. Until recently TIME Magazine’s Kabul correspondent, he has reported from around Afghanistan and more than 35 countries for leading U.S...
Stephen Sapienza is an award-winning news and documentary producer who has covered a wide range of human security stories, including the HIV crisis in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, child...
DIMITER KENAROV, STEPHEN SAPIENZA
Join us for our first Talks@Pulitzer – an evening focused on the work of our grantee journalists, beginning with Stephen Sapienza and Dimiter Kenarov. RSVP today. Space limited!
Pulitzer Center journalist Jason Motlagh discusses his reporting with over 1,000 students in Philadelphia and Chicago.
Pulitzer Center photographers discuss their reporting projects on commodities from around the world at George Washington University.
November 20, 2012 / Untold Stories
Ma Li is, by most accounts, a “good broker" who helps fellow migrants find a safe path into the Thai shrimp processing industry. Of course, she makes some money too.
November 15, 2012 / Untold Stories
Kyaw Thaung covers migrant worker issues in the Thai seafood industry. He's also an activist and, occasionally, he’s in the odd position of reporting on news events that he has helped orchestrate.
Next week, President Obama will become the first U.S. president to visit Burma. Learn about what's going on in Burma and the issues that Obama may discuss with President Thein Sein.
JENNIFER MCDONALD, CAROLINE D'ANGELO
Pulitzer Center photojournalists spread out across Washington, DC, to showcase their work on the local costs of global goods.
November 10, 2012 / Untold Stories
This Week in Review: Global Goods, Local Costs
November 6, 2012 / Untold Stories
Mi Oo thought he was headed for a better-paying job in the Thai seafood industry. Instead, he bought his way into a waking nightmare.
November 2, 2012 / Untold Stories
America's appetite for cheap shrimp from Southeast Asia is growing, but at what cost? In Thailand, illegal and abusive labor practices go unchecked to feed a booming demand. Images by Jason Motlagh.
"We will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times."
JOSEPH PULITZER III (1913-1993)