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Pulitzer Center Update September 21, 2012

This Week in Review: The Real Cost of Shrimp

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Media file: cheap-shrimp.jpg
Burmese migrant women sort shrimp at an open-air distribution center in Mahachai, the capital of Samut Sakhon province on August 18, 2012. Labor abuse is most common in the unregistered peeling sheds that line area backroads. Image by Jason Motlagh. Thailand, 2012.

"At an age when she should have been in a classroom, Thazin Mon discovered her knack for peeling shrimp. To help support her Burmese migrant family, the 14-year-old pulled 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, for less than $3 a day," writes Pulitzer Center grantee Jason Motlagh for The Washington Post. "Although she was the best peeler in the factory, speed was never enough. Mon was beaten if she slowed down, she said. And when she asked for a day off to rest hands swollen with infection, her boss kicked her and threatened rape."

America's appetite for inexpensive shrimp—obligingly satisfied by giant retailers like Walmart and Costco and national restaurant chains like Red Lobster—has fueled a boom in the Thai shrimp industry. But as Jason and video journalist Steve Sapienza team up to report, cheap seafood comes at a high human cost.

The Post story explains how Burmese migrants are exploited by the Thai shrimp industry. In a companion piece for the PBS NewsHour, Steve and Jason use hidden cameras to document numerous abuses in the so-called peeling sheds where children like Mon work long hours for pitiful wages. Their reports are part of a Pulitzer Center Gateway, "Global Goods, Local Costs," that deals with the hidden costs of the everyday products we consume.

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The extraordinary skills of Pulitzer Center photojournalists were on full display this week. Peter DiCampo's work from Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa was featured in The New York Times Lens blog. On our website, you can view Shiho Fukada's poignant portraits of women affected by the appallingly high suicide rate among Japan's overworked salarymen, and also student fellow Meghan Dhaliwal's video on the legal implications of Haiti's cholera epidemic.

Meanwhile, Greg Constantine's haunting images of stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh appeared on the Virginia Quarterly Review's website. Earlier this year Greg and journalist Stephanie Hanes collaborated on an e-book about the Rohingya and other stateless groups, "In Search of Home," published by the Pulitzer Center.

Until next week,

Tom Hundley
Senior Editor