Whole Foods denies selling shrimp processed by slaves

wholefoodshrimpA break from our previously scheduled holiday coverage to address a big story that broke yesterday and its possible connections to Austin.

The Associated Press released an investigation about shrimp peeled by enslaved workers in Thailand. We’ve known about some of the problems with imported shrimp, but this report is the most detailed we’ve seen of deplorable working conditions and the sheer volume of shrimp that enters the U.S. from such operations.

According to the AP, the shrimp makes its way to the U.S. through suppliers, including Thai Union, which works with the restaurant group that owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden, as well as retail chains such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco.

Want to know more? This Q&A answers many of the immediate questions you might have.

On social media this morning, Whole Foods denied that the shrimp they buy from Thai Union had been processed by slaves. “After thorough investigation, we’re confident Thai Union shrimp at our stores did not come from [an] illicit processing facility,” @wholefoods tweeted.

Although the Austin-based retailer didn’t go into details publicly, the CEO of Thai Union acknowledged that “illicitly sourced product may have fraudulently entered its supply chain.”

But Whole Foods (WFM) says it conducted on-site inspections in May after reports of labor abuse first surfaced, and it is confident that the shrimp it gets from Thai Union is not the shrimp peeled by slave labor.

According to CNN Monday, Whole Foods said that it investigated its own supply chain months ago by conducting on-site inspections of Thai Union facilities.

From the post:

Whole Foods also points out that the slave labor in the AP report is used to peeled raw shrimp, but that none of the shrimp it buys in Thailand is processed that way. “All our shrimp is either raw with the shell on, or cooked in the shell and then peeled in approved production facilities,” said the company.

Thai Union also promised AP to bring all shrimp-processing in-house by the end of the year and provide jobs to workers whose factories close as a result. Whole Foods said it supports this move.

Author: Addie Broyles

Food writer for the Austin American-Statesman and Austin360.com.

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