Costco Wholesale Corp. was sued for selling farmed shrimp from Thailand, where slave labor and human trafficking in the fishing industry are widespread, and allegedly misleading U.S. consumers about it.
A California woman filed what may be the first such lawsuit against the retailer over liability for the Thai fishing industry. She cited state laws that bar companies from making false claims about illegal conduct in their supply chain, including human rights violations.
Costco’s purchases of Thailand’s farmed prawns, which are fed a diet of cheap fish caught at sea with unpaid, forced labor, helps prop up an industry whose practices are ignored by local authorities, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court.
“Human suffering cannot be ignored to enhance a company’s economic bottom line,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Niall McCarthy, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, said in a statement. “California consumers are unknowingly supporting slave labor.”
Held captive by traffickers who pocket their wages, the laborers, many of them Burmese, [B]work as long as 20 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes while shackled, the suit said. Some former slave laborers have reported being whipped and electrically shocked and seeing co-workers jump overboard.