American whistleblower’s complaints raise questions over India’s contaminated shrimp exporting industry


An American executive who worked for four months in a shrimp processing factory in southern India has blown the lid off the harsh and unhygienic working conditions in the farm, leading to lawmakers initiating an investigation. NBC News, in collaboration with The Outlaw Ocean Project, a nonprofit journalism organization, first reported the story on April 4.

According to the report, Joshua Farinella, 45, began working at Choice Canning in Amalapuram in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in October 2023. Choice Canning supplies shrimp to major U.S. grocery chains including Walmart, Aldi, ShopRite and H.E.B. It touts its “state-of-the-art processing plant” and “commitment to international standards of quality.”

Women peel shrimp by hand at an external peeling shed that supplied the Choice Canning shrimp processing plant in Amalapuram, India, in January 2024. The use of such “external” peeling sheds is typically banned by auditors because these locations are tougher to police for proper hygienic and working conditions. Picture by: Joshua Farinella / The Outlaw Ocean Project

Some time after taking over the $300,000 a year job, Farinella found that Choice Canning is now what it touts to be. He soon discovered that Choice Canning operated unsanitary offsite “peeling sheds” and routinely approved the export of shrimp tainted with antibiotics in violation of U.S. food safety law, the report said.

The Indian shrimp industry is important as the country accounts for 40% of American imports of the sought-after crustacean.

According to NBC News:

The company’s treatment of workers was equally jarring to Farinella, he said. Migrant workers rarely had a day off, slept in overcrowded, bedbug-infested dorms and were restricted from leaving the walled-off company compound in Amalapuram, according to Farinella. They were mostly women who were often recruited from the poorest sections of the country.

Farinella left the job after about four months, but not before recording conversations with senior leadership and capturing video footage of conditions at the plant and at an offsite peeling facility.

“​​The consumers need to understand that they’ve been purchasing a contaminated product that was made by people who don’t have the luxury of going home,” said Farinella, who has filed a whistleblower complaint with the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators detailing his allegations and has shared it with members of Congress.

This is not the first time an American news outlet has found jarring violations in Indian shrimp factories. In March this years, Associated Press published an investigation following a report by by the Chicago-based Corporate Accountability Lab, a human rights legal group, that found workers face “dangerous and abusive conditions.”

According to the AP report:

In India, residents told the AP newly dug hatcheries and ponds had contaminated neighboring communities’ water and soil, making it nearly impossible to grow crops, especially rice they depend on for food.

From the ponds, trucks hauled the shrimp to peeling sheds. In one shed, dozens of women, some barefoot, stood on narrow wooden benches enduring 10-hour shifts peeling shrimp covered in crushed ice. Barehanded or wearing filthy, torn gloves, the women twisted off the heads, pulled off the legs and pried off the shells, making it possible for American cooks to simply tear open a bag and toss the shrimp in a skillet.

According to the NBC report:
U.S. lawmakers are looking into Farinella’s allegations, which underscore long-held concerns about the farmed shrimp industry globally and more recent findings about India’s in particular.

In a letter dated March 18, ranking Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources requested documents and recordings from Farinella in response to his complaint. The letter references the committee’s “ongoing efforts to reduce human rights violations and increase transparency in the seafood supply chain.” (Farinella’s lawyers said they’ve provided all relevant records in response.)

After the nonprofit news organization The Outlaw Ocean Project published its investigation into Farinella’s claims, other lawmakers called on the Biden administration to take action to protect American consumers.

According to the Outlaw Ocean Project:

“Last year (2023), the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency, reported that workers in India’s shrimp plants often lacked working toilets, and routinely developed health issues. Another study published last year by Elevate, a firm hired by Lidl, Kroger, and a third unnamed retailer, also described restrictions of freedom of movement, forced overtime, and the widespread sexual harassment and abuse of female migrant workers at plants that were producing shrimp for Lidl, Kroger, and other grocery stores.”


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