Hi, I’m Martha Mendoza, a national writer for The Associated Press. AP colleagues Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan and I just put out an exclusive report showing that slave laborers in Thailand -- some of them children -- are peeling shrimp for sale overseas, and that some of that shrimp is being sold in supermarkets and restaurants in the U.S.

This is our latest report in an AP investigative series on slavery in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. Some of our reporting earlier this year resulted in more than 2,000 slaves being freed and returned to their families, many of them in nearby Myanmar.

Here’s our latest story, on slaves peeling shrimp: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/8f64fb25931242a985bc30e3f5a9a0b2/ap-global-supermarkets-selling-shrimp-peeled-slaves

And here’s my proof: https://twitter.com/mendozamartha/status/676409902680645632

These are some of our previous stories in this investigation, including video reports that feature footage of slave laborers inside cages and emotional reunions with family members:

AP Investigation: Slavery taints global supply of seafood: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/98053222a73e4b5dab9fb81a116d5854/ap-investigation-slavery-taints-global-supply-seafood

VIDEO: US Supply Chain Tainted by Slave-Caught Fish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgYgAVQG5lk

Myanmar fisherman goes home after 22 years as a slave: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d8afe2a8447d4610b3293c119415bd4a/myanmar-fisherman-goes-home-after-22-years-slave

VIDEO: Tortured Fish Slave Returns Home After 22 Years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIVPKQV40G4

AP Exclusive: AP tracks slave boats to Papua New Guinea: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c2fe8406ff7145a8b484deae3f748aa5/ap-tracks-missing-slave-fishing-boats-papua-new-guinea

What do you want to know about slavery in the seafood industry, or about slave labor more generally? Ask me anything.

UPDATE: Thanks for all of the great questions. I've got to get to work on our next story. Stay tuned.

Comments: 999 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

Frajer700 karma

How do I make sure that I am not supporting slave labor when I eat shrimp?

MarthaMendozaAP670 karma

There are a few approaches. If you live near the sea, buy local. Also we've published a list of all the brands we tracked to supply chains tied to modern day slavery here: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/slaves-peeling-shrimp-35750512 but those are only the ones we tracked.

Rambles_Off_Topics631 karma

For those interested...
Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D'Agostino Supermarket; Dan's Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry's Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano's; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin's Super Markets; McDade's Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall's Food Market; Redner's Warehouse Markets; Russ's Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van's Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.
EDIT: Thank you for the gold!

NoSmallWars335 karma

You've listed every option other than catching them myself... Sheeesh!.. Asian slaves in the shrimp industry... And I thought Dolphins got it bad from the tuna industry...

MarthaMendozaAP596 karma

There is more oversight in seafood to protect dolphins than there is to protect humans.

I_Key_Cars298 karma

Just about every grocery store in America?

MarthaMendozaAP338 karma

This was what we found, yes.

boston_shua19 karma

Central Seaway?

MarthaMendozaAP31 karma

Didn't go there!

averagemonkey251 karma

What can a regular person do to fight modern slavery?

MarthaMendozaAP245 karma

Human rights experts urge consumers to ask stores and restaurants about the origins of their products. There are nonprofit organizations focused on fighting human trafficking, some doing outstanding work. We published a list here earlier this year: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/368aa5d7336844fd81e7b670a67b51b2/how-help-fishermen-rescued-slavery-sea-se-asia

angelzfromhell972116 karma

How do you think this keeps happening? I mean clearly if you were to ask everyone in America do you want slaves preparing your food. Everyone would say no vehemently. However, it seems time and time again we hear these stories.

Also do you believe people really care about stories like these? Because this should by far get a lot more attention. However, given the fact it happens in Thailand and not in the U.S. it seems stories like these just generate a quite thought of "oh that's sad" and are never thought of ever again.

Sometimes I wonder about why we do this to ourselves. We should by far care about these things. But it seems because it's so depressing like the news about Syria that we just can't seem to bother to inform ourselves. Instead we'll pay attention to the latest Kanye shoes or something inconsequential like that.

MarthaMendozaAP190 karma

Positive change can and does happen. There are companies that are meticulous in their sourcing. Journalism about soccer balls made by kids, blood diamonds, electronics, have all prompted change.

PrinceParadox109 karma

If I was going free these slaves how do i do it? do they need to be bought? Or do i have to take out the Shrimp Lord?

MarthaMendozaAP89 karma

Can't comment on Shrimp Lord. But we did publish this list of ways to help earlier this year: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/368aa5d7336844fd81e7b670a67b51b2/how-help-fishermen-rescued-slavery-sea-se-asia

runninger101 karma

How did the AP get tipped off about this happening? Was it difficult to find people willing to speak with you on the record? When reporting on sensitive issues like this where people might be afraid of speaking out, how do you get them to trust you?


MarthaMendozaAP147 karma

My colleagues in Asia (see above) have spent years building strong relations with well connected human rights advocates, government officials and other key sources who were able to help. Yes, people are afraid to speak out. It took courage for them to talk to us, at great personal risk.

MarthaMendozaAP161 karma

I should note that before we published our stories out of Benjina we worked with the International Organization For Migration to make sure the men whose images we were publishing had been freed. We had been warned that if we didn't they could be "eliminated as evidence."

dirtyseaotter91 karma

Are these fishing outfits luring people into these slave labor positions or is it by force? How is this "recruiting" typically done?

MarthaMendozaAP137 karma

My colleagues have interviewed hundreds of men now, we surveyed even more, to try to understand it. They are frequently tricked or grossly misled. We documented one man's story here: http://interactives.ap.org/2015/22-years-a-slave/

I_double_doge_dare_u72 karma

Why do you believe this is such a problem in this specific industry? What other industries would this scenario closely compare with that individuals like myself would not be aware of?

MarthaMendozaAP113 karma

There are a few reasons. There are some very real language barriers that prevent victims from reaching and communicating with those who could help. There's a remoteness at sea for fishing that makes it hard for much oversight. In terms of other sectors, http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

hubub15356 karma

Hi Martha!

Perhaps a bit unrelated, but I'm a journalism student and will be entering my final semester after the holidays. Do you have any career advice?

MarthaMendozaAP101 karma

Oh totally! What a great career choice - never a dull moment! Stay curious, engaged and focused on those voices that might otherwise not be heard. This is a great responsibility so don't take it lightly.

straydog198042 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA, Martha. The story was heartbreaking. Other than voting with our wallets, which is easier said than done, are there any other systemic improvements that need to take place? Is it a lack of policy or compliance that leads to this?

MarthaMendozaAP101 karma

Oh! Well there's a loophole in an 85 year old federal law that is supposed to block any product of forced labor from entering the US. The loophole allows an item if there's "consumptive demand." Year after year members of congress try, without success, to close that. So there are policy solutions. And industry solutions as well _ the seafood industry says they're committed to change. It's important to hold them accountable.

Spelcheque36 karma

Is it difficult for former slaves to readapt to the regular world? Are there groups helping them? Did you have to deal with slave-drivers while writing these pieces? If so, what sort of approach do you use with them?

These articles are fantastic. After your first one and the Vice episode on overfishing, I quit fish pretty much completely.

MarthaMendozaAP73 karma

It's incredibly difficult. For many, the return home is bittersweet. Parents collapse in tears upon seeing their sons, and some men meet siblings born after they left. But almost all come back empty-handed, struggle to find jobs and feel they are yet another burden to their extremely poor families. At least one crowd-sourcing site, set up by Anti-Slavery International, is aimed at helping them.

A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine earlier this year, based on interviews with over 1,000 trafficking survivors from different industries, found half of those returning from slavery at sea suffered from depression and around 40 percent from post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. More here: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ceecf8df237e49bf8fe59d47fa3515b0/more-2000-enslaved-fishermen-rescued-6-months

micah34524 karma

How do these companies get away with slave labor? How do people get trapped into slavery?

Thank you so much for doing this important work.

MarthaMendozaAP53 karma

They get away with it because there's not enough oversight from industry and government, not enough accountability on all fronts and not enough demand from consumers to end these practices. I should note that today the Global Aquaculture Alliance, the industry rep for the world's farmed shrimp, sent me a note saying, "We commend the AP for bringing to light any instances of slave labor in the seafood supply chain." And that's been the pretty consistent message from industry.

supercheetah23 karma

Have there been any particular persons or groups that have been instrumental in changing things in Indonesia?

MarthaMendozaAP35 karma

Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia's Fishing Minister.

God_of_Illiteracy21 karma

From what I understand, slavery in all forms is illegal in all nations. However, we know that there are ways around that as you clearly found in the shrimp fishing industry. What other countries and industries have slavery prevalent within them?

MarthaMendozaAP48 karma

NYArtFan120 karma

With as much as we've seen in the media about the TPP will controversial trade agreements like this exacerbate the problem, or do we have any recourse in our trade programs to eliminate these situations?

Thank you for what you do. It's very important for people to be aware of what's going on in the production of the goods and food we consume. Too often it's out of sight out of mind.

MarthaMendozaAP14 karma

The TPP could provide traction: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/6dc11deff17245f0a31b73c98d056226/us-boost-malaysia-addressing-human-trafficking

And more thanks to you for your interest!

1tudore18 karma

Have you spoken with different policy analysts about what types of regulatory frameworks, public/private collaborations, or other policy responses are most effective in eliminating slave labor?

MarthaMendozaAP24 karma

Yes. Lots. There are best practices in the anti-trafficking community, and many hardworking advocates addressing this at all levels.

rallioul12 karma

Hi Martha! My father is a videographer for AP who also worked on this story. He regards it as one of the most important stories he's been a part of. We had a discussion about it a couple weeks ago, and how the AP had released a similar story and exposed the slave trade in SE asia. How do you hope to continue this mission to bring these facts to light? It must be tough to take such a niche story to the mainstream, but from what I've seen today, you guys are making great progress!

MarthaMendozaAP10 karma

Thanks, curious about who your dad is. There are SO many people engaged in this project, making videos, interactives, handling radio and marketing, the photos were great, editors and many more. Wait. Was there a question?

Internetologist11 karma

What type of responses are you receiving from SE Asian governments? Are they willing to cooperate to wipe this out, or basically looking the other way?

MarthaMendozaAP24 karma

SE Asian governments cannot be painted with a single brush. In Indonesia, the fishing ministry has been very aggressive in trying to protect workers. In Thailand, the junta leadership has said it will fight forced labor in the seafood sector but leaders have also said this is not a topic that should be reported. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told journalists that he would “probably just execute” those among them who failed to “report the truth.”

1tudore11 karma

Do you have any recommendations for sources of direct testimony from former slaves or participants in the slave trade?

MarthaMendozaAP16 karma

The International Organization for Migration, International Justice Missions, Project Issara to name a few.

MarthaMendozaAP18 karma

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ceecf8df237e49bf8fe59d47fa3515b0/more-2000-enslaved-fishermen-rescued-6-months An AP survey of almost 400 men underscores the horrific conditions fishing slaves faced. Many described being whipped with stingray tails, deprived of food and water and forced to work for years without pay. More than 20 percent said they were beaten, 30 percent said they saw someone else beaten and 12 percent said they saw a person die.

"My colleague, Chit Oo, fell from the boat into the water," wrote Ye Aung, 32, of Myanmar. "The captain said there was no need to search, he will float by himself later."

Another man, 18-year-old Than Min Oo, said he was not paid and wrote simply: "Please help me."

SuperWhexican10 karma

How does your investigation in Thai shrimp industry compare to agriculture migrant farm workers in the US and the slave-labor like condition they operate under?

MarthaMendozaAP19 karma

While there are certainly abuses in the US, typically its less severe and more nuanced. That's not to say there aren't serious problems: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/15/migrant-farmworker-children-schools_n_6329960.html

xerxes4319 karma

Thanks for this AMA! Do the victims not know about abuses in the industry or do they just have no other choice? What prevents single workers from escaping?

MarthaMendozaAP18 karma

If one worker escapes, their debt burden is added onto those associated with them still trapped, like a husband or sister.

JustStopAndThink9 karma

Thanks for all your work in this area.

I knew modern slavery was still happening. But...I had no idea it was happening in the realm of seafood.

Are there other sectors of commerce that you know of that have slave labor involved?

And how can those in America (and other importers of such products) fight it?

MarthaMendozaAP10 karma

Lots of questions here... Let's see. In terms of the thanks, please keep in mind that when we asked these migrants to talk to us about their situations, they did so, conscientiously, courageously, again at great risk. They deserve all the thanks for speaking to us. Other sectors? http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/

MarthaMendozaAP2 karma

Lots of questions here... Let's see. In terms of the thanks, please keep in mind that when we asked these migrants to talk to us about their situations, they did so, conscientiously, courageously, again at great risk. They deserve all the thanks for speaking to us. Other sectors? http://www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods/


What prompted you and your team to investigate this? And also, how were so many people enslaved in a very discreet manner? Or am I missing something?

MarthaMendozaAP21 karma

Slavery in the Southeast Asian seafood sector has been reported by NGOs and media for several years. We decided this year that to make a difference we needed to follow the fish. And shrimp. Which we've done, in trucks, by satellite, and through shipping records.

VaATC7 karma

So is the US the only place that gets these shrimp?

MarthaMendozaAP16 karma

The distributors we tracked shrimp to in Thailand all say they export to Europe and Asia. Those continents do not have public Customs records which means the specific stores and brands are not identifiable.

Seth7115 karma

What do you think the average person could do in an effort to put an end to this?

El_Minadero4 karma

Fellow Mendoza here. Do you realize how amazing the name and house of Mendoza is?

MarthaMendozaAP8 karma

Are you my primo?

Ennion4 karma

I stopped using frozen shrimp from Costco because of their type of slavery. I can't eliminate everything I use because sometimes I don't know where something comes from.
My question is, is it better to educate the public about this kind of slavery to change an industry, or is it better to go after the source of the slavery to change the way they produce?
Edit: Grammar

dirtyseaotter9 karma

Woah! I just checked Martha Mendoza's list, and was relieved to not see Costco on there. Now I see this comment and I don't know how to feel about my shrimp anymore. Do you have source?

MarthaMendozaAP12 karma

MarthaMendozaAP6 karma

I totally know how you feel. Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed at the supermarket when I start considering whose hands touched every item. The experts I've interviewed try a variety of solutions. Some, like Greenpeace, call for boycotts. Others, like freetheslaves.net try to build up civil society so citizens wont be desperate enough to fall into this trap.

tictac12113 karma

Can you give a little insight as to your investigative reporting process? Do you have standard steps you take every time you write a story, or does it differ vastly for different ones?

MarthaMendozaAP5 karma

It's just one step after another. In this case, we had seen reports that slaves were being forced to catch fish that could end up in US supply chains. So step one: follow the fish.

tictac12113 karma

Also, how does it feel to directly impact events in a field or story you're working on? I've always thought it might actually feel a little strange; as a reporter isn't your primary duty to be a neutral observer and not an agent?

MarthaMendozaAP4 karma

Right. This story in particular has had us (Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Esther Htusan and our dear editors) pondering our role. For example, we didn't want to depict or name certain people in today's story because we were concerned about their well being. And earlier this year when we found slave boats at sea, we opted for alerting authorities (who saved the men). http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c2fe8406ff7145a8b484deae3f748aa5/ap-tracks-missing-slave-fishing-boats-papua-new-guinea

nigger20141 karma

So you're saying shrimp should be cheaper?!

MarthaMendozaAP1 karma


wee_man-2 karma

Are you aware of how this is influencing the 2016 election?

MarthaMendozaAP1 karma

We haven't noticed this issue as influencing the 2016 election, nor do I expect harsh words about scampi at the Republican Debate tomorrow night. But I do hope Americans can engage with the situation facing workers abroad.

Tainted-Food-8 karma

Have you ever seen a ghost? I have...once

MarthaMendozaAP2 karma

You know, I always really wanted to, but I haven't. Yet. Was yours cool?