At a hearing held by the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday, Exploitation and Enforcement: Evaluating the Department of Homeland Security’s Efforts to Counter Uyghur Forced Labor, witnesses explained that sourcing from factories using forced Uyghur labor has corrupted a massive array of supply chains in China, impacting diverse, unrelated industries that, due to the forced transfer of Uyghurs within the country, operate in provinces well beyond Xinjiang.
The Homeland Security Committee’s October 19th hearing highlighted how these human rights violations affect the global seafood market. For example, in her opening statement, Louisa Greve, the Director of Advocacy at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, emphasized that Uyghur labor had been documented in seafood processing plants in China through the recently published results of investigations by The Outlaw Ocean Project. Moreover, in his comments at the hearing, Representative Mike Ezell (R-MS-4) explained that investigations of Uyghur labor in Chinese seafood processing plants had found that these factories were exporting shrimp to the United States. Rep. Ezell also observed that the use of forced labor in Chinese commercial fishing operations was a major source of the fishmeal and fish oil used to produce aquaculture feed, facilitating the flooding of the U.S. market with farmed shrimp.
Based on these observations, Rep. Ezell asked the witness panel what U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) could do in response to the prevalence of forced labor in China, emphasizing the harm this practice was having on shrimpers in southern Mississippi. In response, Michael Stumo, the CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, noted that trade in Argentine Red Shrimp presents a good example of the challenges confronting CBP in enforcing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), as this shrimp is shipped to China, processed in plants that may be using Uyghur labor, and then exported to the United States. Mr. Stumo further observed that when these products are shipped to another country, like Canada, prior to entering the United States, the lack of public release of bills of lading for truck or rail shipments makes it impossible to determine whether this shrimp is ultimately being rerouted to American consumers.
The investigators at The Outlaw Ocean Project have created a Bait-to-Plate tool regarding the results of their research into the Chinese seafood industry that lists entities linked to forced labor practices in China. The Bait-to-Plate list identifies two Chinese entities, Rizhao Meijia Keyuan Foods Co., Ltd. and Rizhao Rongxing Co., Ltd., that have previously exported shrimp to the United States and are linked to Uyghur labor.
But other seafood processing plants in Shandong have also shipped shrimp to the United States and continue to do so. These entities were not investigated by The Outlaw Ocean Project. However, the investigative work of The Outlaw Ocean Project documented transfers of workers from Xinjiang to seafood processing plants in Shandong province as early as 2008. The transfer of Uyghurs was part of a broader program aimed at the Chinese government’s campaign against Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang province. Accordingly, there is, and has been for some time, a risk that any shrimp (or seafood) sourced through any seafood factory in Shandong is being processed by Uyghur labor.
Yet, right now, importers are having Argentine Red Shrimp shipped to U.S. ports from companies in Shandong province. So far this year, American importers have received Argentine Red Shrimp from Qingdao Yize Food Co., Ltd., while Argentinian shrimp was also shipped to the United States by Rongcheng Sanyue Foodstuff Co., Ltd.
Based on the findings of The Outlaw Ocean Project and the U.S. shrimp industry’s own investigation into the distribution of Argentine Red Shrimp, the Southern Shrimp Alliance has filed a formal allegation with CBP regarding imports of shrimp processed by Qingdao Yize into the United States as violating the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. In addition, the Southern Shrimp Alliance is calling on CBP to investigate all shipments of Argentinian shrimp exported to the United States from anywhere in China to determine whether the processing plant shipping the shrimp uses Uyghur labor. The Southern Shrimp Alliance agrees with the recommendation from Ken Kennedy, a former Homeland Security official responsible for countering trade in goods produced through forced labor, that the United States block seafood imports from China until American importers can demonstrate that their supply chains are free from abuse because “[t]he U.S. is awash with criminally tainted seafood.”
At a minimum, retailers and restaurants that carry Argentine Red Shrimp should seek answers from their suppliers as to whether their shrimp was processed in China and, if so, what steps have been taken to ensure that the shrimp was not processed in plants using Uyghur or North Korean labor. Consumers should also demand to know how any Argentine Red Shrimp came to their grocery store.
“As we learn more about the seafood processing industry in Shandong, this is no longer about importers and grocery stores simply knowing their suppliers,” said John Williams, the Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “Whether it is shrimp or clothes or tomatoes or polysilicon, we need to ensure that American consumers are not unwittingly financing the Chinese Communist Party’s barbaric treatment of its own people. I, like many in this industry, am horrified by these reports and ask that our government shut this trade down immediately.”
Explore The Outlaw Ocean Project’s “Bait-to-Plate” interactive tool regarding vessels, processors, importers, and buyers of seafood linked to Chinese forced labor practices: https://www.theoutlawocean.com/investigations/china-the-superpower-of-seafood/bait-to-plate/
Watch the Homeland Security Committee’s October 19, 2023 hearing Exploitation and Enforcement: Evaluating the Department of Homeland Security’s Efforts to Counter Uyghur Forced Labor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxNwYKoaF9g
Read more about the Homeland Security Committee’s October 19, 2023 hearing Exploitation and Enforcement: Evaluating the Department of Homeland Security’s Efforts to Counter Uyghur Forced Labor: https://homeland.house.gov/hearing/exploitation-and-enforcement-evaluating-the-department-of-homeland-securitys-efforts-to-counter-uyghur-forced-labor/
Review the The Outlaw Ocean Project’s “The Uyghurs Forced to Process the World’s Fish” here: https://www.theoutlawocean.com/investigations/china-the-superpower-of-seafood/the-uyghurs-forced-to-process-the-worlds-fish/
Read The New Yorker’s “The Crimes Behind the Seafood You Eat” here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2023/10/16/the-crimes-behind-the-seafood-you-eat
Learn more about the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act here: https://www.cbp.gov/trade/forced-labor/UFLPA