Thailand has been downgraded to “Tier 3,” the lowest possible ranking when it comes to combating human trafficking, according to the latest U.S. State Department’s TIP report, released June 21, 2014.
Cheap shrimp may be one reason for the recent TIP downgrade. More precisely, an invisible underclass of migrant workers, many of whom endure conditions tantamount to debt bondage, are the cornerstone of the Thai shrimp industry’s success, enabling companies to keep prices down and export nearly one-third of the total U.S. shrimp supply each year.
In 2012, Pulitzer Center-funded reporters Steve Sapienza and Jason Motlagh spent a month reporting from Samut Sakhon province, the hub of the Thai shrimp industry. They investigated working conditions in unregistered shrimp peeling sheds and interviewed migrant-labor activists and workers. Their reporting, as well as an undercover video obtained from Burmese migrant workers, one of the groups most victimized by the Thai shrimp industry, was picked up by PBS NewsHour and the Washington Post.