The AP investigation traced some of this seafood all the way to U.S. businesses. Shrimp caught and processed with slave labor ended up in the supply chains of U.S. grocery stores, food distributors, and restaurants.
Conditions are horrible for forced laborers in Thai fishing boats and processing factories. The State Department's 2015 Trafficking in Persons report explained the details.
"Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, and Indonesian men are subjected to forced labor on Thai fishing boats; some men remain at sea for several years, are paid very little or irregularly, work as much as 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, or are threatened and physically beaten. Some victims of trafficking in the fishing sector were unable to return home due to isolated workplaces, unpaid wages, and the lack of legitimate identity," the report explained.
Migrants from other countries like Burma and Cambodia are looking for work, and so they pay a broker who promises them a job but instead sells them to boat captains, Verité reported.
Other commodities like metals, diamonds, and produce that are imported into the U.S. may also be gathered and processed by child or slave laborers.
Flowers, for instance, are grown and picked in Ecuador with child labor and sent to the U.S. Around Valentine's Day, when demand is greatest, workers endure up to 20-hour days with no overtime pay. Women are subjected to sexual violence and harassment with no ability to speak out.
With such a deep and nefarious global supply chain affecting almost every product that may be sold in U.S. stores, what exactly can Catholic consumers and businesses do to mitigate the influence of foreign companies who profit from labor trafficking?
Ultimately, ending human trafficking and slave labor will not come through charitable donations, but through the market, Dillon told CNA. $120 million is given annually to fight trafficking, but over a thousand times that is made in profits per year from slave labor – $150 billion.
Dillon's group, Made in a Free World, works to help businesses fight trafficking by predicting where there might be forced labor in their supply chains. They do this through "predictive modeling" of almost 54,000 goods, services, and commodities and where the materials come from through trade routes. Their modeling tool is software called "FRDM" – "forced labor risk determination and mitigation" – available to businesses online.
The problematic companies that employ child laborers and forced laborers are more easily identified this way.
"The game we're playing is to reverse the power of the marketplace to start to create transparency and make it more and more difficult for the bad guys, the bad companies, to be profitable," Dillon said.
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Businesses should be held accountable for their purchases, but no one is perfect, he continued.
Consumers shouldn't be demonizing U.S. businesses where slave-produced goods unknowingly end up on shelves, but should rather be encouraging them as much as possible to investigate their supply chains and supporting the businesses who are making the best effort to do so, he said.
"We need the global marketplace on our side, not attack it."
"Most companies have almost no idea what's behind their initial purchase," he continued.
For example, a U.S. company that sells tablet computers might buy finished tablets from a Chinese supplier.
However, "the optics beyond that supplier A, that first company where you're buying, are almost invisible," Dillon said. "You have very little idea of where supplier A is buying their components' parts, and maybe even commodities to be able to produce that tablet computer for you."