Exploitation in Food

Sure, it's fairly uncontroversial to say that exploiting people to make money is wrong, but a large number of companies owe much of their success to doing just that. It is so prevalent in certain industries that exploitation is essentially a standard operating procedure. Some of the industries with the worst reputations include extraction/mining of rare metals and fossil fuels (which is in tech devices and cars), seafood harvesting and processing, clothing and textile manufacturing, and cocoa production. Exploitation in these industries take a wide-range of forms: human trafficking, slavery, sweatshops, child labor, environmental injustice, to name just a few.

These industries have become so notorious for human exploitation that there is actually an assumption some type of human exploitation will occur in a given company’s supply chain.

It is only when a company is certified, advertises a unique procurement/manufacturing process, or is publicly taking steps to mitigate human exploitation in their supply chain that the company is considered an exception to the rule within the industry.

Today, we're tackling two of the worst offenders, shrimp and chocolate, and offering some tips and alternatives that'll help you make choices that align with the value of non-exploitation. Here's what to look for when purchasing shrimp and chocolate (hopefully not to eat in the same dish, but hey, whatever floats your boat!).

Photo by  Aman Bhargava  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aman Bhargava on Unsplash

Shrimp - Buy Harvested/Caught in the United States

(Not just a 'Product of' or 'Produced in the United States')

Shrimp is the most consumed type of seafood in the United States. Unfortunately, it is also the industry where human trafficking has been reported to be most prevalent. It is one of the reasons shrimp has become so affordable. It has been estimated that as much as 57% of the fishermen for shrimp in Thailand work up to 20 hours a day in slave like conditions where they are physically and psychologically abused for minimal pay.

Once the shrimp reaches land, workers, including young children, whose working conditions are similarly deplorable, peel and process the shrimp before it’s shipped to the US. 

In order to decrease the likelihood the shrimp you purchase is supporting human trafficking, buy shrimp harvested in the United States. Because of labeling regulations, it is not enough to see that a shrimp product was “Made in America.” Shrimp that was harvested in Thailand and processed in the US is allowed to carry the “Made in America” label. The shrimp must say that it was harvested/caught in the US, not “Made in America” or “Processed in America.” In addition to being more humane (to humans), shrimp caught and harvested in the US is much less likely to be contaminated with fecal matter.

Chocolate – Buy Fair Trade Certified and/or Organic

The chocolate and cocoa industries have substantial child labor involved in their supply chains. As of 2016 it was estimated that over 2 million children are engaged in planting, tending, and harvesting cocoa for low wages in West Africa. Many of them will never attend school because of such work. The labor is often extremely dangerous involving machetes and other sharp tools. A study in Cote d’Ivoire approximated 37% of children who farm cocoa had suffered cuts and wounds within the context of their work.

In addition to child labor, forced labor and human trafficking are also used in the farming of cocoa. Children are smuggled across national borders and forced to work on farms in unsafe and unhealthy conditions for less than they were promised.

Most of the major chocolate brands have created programs to decrease the prevalence of child labor and other forms of human exploitation in their supply chains. Companies like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce child labor and human trafficking in their supply chains. While there has been some progress, the complexity of the cocoa industry and the massive world demand for cocoa products has made meaningful progress slow and challenging.  

In order maximize the likelihood that the chocolate you are purchasing was not produced through the exploitation of children, you should focus on brands that have packaging with a fair trade label, such as “Fair Trade Certified,” “Fair Trade Federation,” “Rain Forest Alliance Certified, “Utz Certified,” or “Fair for Life.” While the standards for the different fair trade labels have different specific focuses, they basically all try to ensure that products are responsibly produced.

While chocolate and cocoa that carry a fair trade certification are often premium boutique brands, there are also many generic and store brand options. These include:

  • 365 brand chocolates (Whole Foods) – Wide variety of options
  • Simple Truth Organic Chocolates (Kroger) – Wide variety of options
  • Simply Balanced Dark Chocolate Blueberries (Target)
  • Simply Balanced Dark Chocolate Banana Chips (Target)
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Belgian Milk Chocolate (Trader Joe’s)
  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Belgian Dark Chocolate (Trader Joe’s)