Corporate Accountability Lab Report Exposes Forced Labor and Other Abusive Practices Across Indian Shrimp Supply Chain

In 2023, the United States imported over 463 million pounds of peeled shrimp from India worth roughly $1.6 billion.  Imports from this single country accounted for well over half (56 percent) of the total volume of the United States’ imports of peeled shrimp from throughout the world.

As recently as 2011, India accounted for less than 9 percent of our country’s imported peeled shrimp.  But, in an age of automation, India quickly rose to dominate a market that still depends upon human hands to remove the vein and shell of shrimp prior to exportation.  

India has supplied over half of the peeled shrimp imported into the United States since 2018, so India’s continued dominance in our market in 2023 was not new.  What is new, however, is how aggressively the Indian industry has fought to maintain its position and not lose sales to other foreign shrimp suppliers.  Last year, the volume of peeled shrimp we imported from every other country in the world other than India fell by 3 percent compared to 2022.  But Indian peeled shrimp increased by 4 percent compared to 2022.  At the same time, the per pound value of the peeled shrimp from India fell by 15 percent, from $3.97 in 2022 to $3.36 in 2023. 

In other words, the Indian shrimp industry discovered a way to not only sell more peeled shrimp to the United States, but to sell it even cheaper.

A bombshell report published by Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL) today meticulously describes the human suffering that made this cheaper shrimp possible.  

CAL’s report, Hidden Harvest: Human Rights and Environmental Abuses in India’s Shrimp Industry, explains how Indian shrimp processors recently changed the terms of employment of shrimp peelers from hourly wages to piecework compensation, meaning that women were paid based on the volume of shrimp peeled rather than time worked.  This shift significantly reduced processing costs, while further impoverishing the women and girls peeling shrimp.

CAL’s report details how migrant workers in shrimp processing factories are compelled to live in company-owned and operated hostels, where recent industry changes have resulted in workers being allowed to leave compounds no more than once-a-month.  Otherwise, workers are under the supervision of guards that track their activities for the processors.

CAL’s report confirms that peeled shrimp produced in India depends upon the exploitation of the most vulnerable in the country, with debt bondage practices remaining pervasive amongst people desperate for any employment.  These workers are maintained as part of an informal economy, for which shrimp exporters do not take responsibility and keep off of their official books.  As CAL’s investigators note, when informed that an audit will take place of their facility, migrant workers are asked to leave the premises to create a false portrait of the company’s operations.

Hidden Harvest also devastatingly documents the continuing crime of child labor in India’s shrimp peeling industry, with CAL’s investigators bearing witness to young girls toiling away in peeling sheds despite international condemnation of the practice when it was exposed in Thailand.  CAL’s reporting documents how teenage girls remain a part of the workforce essential for putting cocktail shrimp rings on the shelves of American grocery stores.

In its three-year, comprehensive investigation, CAL went much further than just the processing step of India’s shrimp supply chain and uncovered forced labor and other abusive practices at each level of India’s industry.  CAL’s investigators found people forced to live and work around the clock at shrimp hatcheries and families lodging in ramshackle buildings while tending to shrimp at aquaculture ponds. 

And, most depressingly, what Hidden Harvest documents is a cynical acceptance of this exploitation so long as there were profits to be had.  CAL describes how, rather than work to improve conditions to address the poverty and vulnerability of workers, the U.S. importing industry developed a certification scheme that promised to establish and enforce working standards that are, instead, consistently ignored and violated. 

The Southern Shrimp Alliance commends the incredible work of Corporate Accountability Lab and we are all in awe of the bravery of the men and women willing to investigate and report on the horrors within India’s shrimp industry,” said John Williams, Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.  “All throughout the coast of this country, shrimp boats are tied up and not working due to the cheap, imported shrimp that has overwhelmed our market.  American families are suffering, but CAL’s report is an essential reminder to all of us that the pain caused by unsustainable, cheap shrimp production is even greater by the vulnerable peoples exploited to build the wealth of an elite few.”

Review Corporate Accountability Lab’s Hidden Harvest: Human Rights and Environmental Abuses in India’s Shrimp Industry (Mar. 2024) here:

Share This Article

Join the Mailing List

Get news from Southern Shrimp Alliance straight to your inbox!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Related Posts