Shrimp Farming Forced Labor Lawsuit Against Costco Dismissed

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A few years ago, consumers around the world were horrified to learn that seafood they ate was the product of forced labor in Asia. They responded in the American way, by filing class actions against the retailers they believed had misled them. Now a prominent lawsuit against warehouse club Costco over its shrimp has been dismissed.

Fish on our plates wasn’t caught by horribly mistreated fishermen, but the fish that feeds farmed shrimp, and some seafood that ends up in American cat food cans comes from boats with questionable labor practices. Workers from low-income countries were held against their will on fishing vessels or peeling shrimp in factories in Thailand, revelations that horrified government officials and seafood fans alike.

An initial lawsuit against Costco was dismissed early last year because the plaintiff hadn’t purchased shrimp from the warehouse club, something that the company knows because purchases there are linked to membership cards. The lawsuit went ahead with a different plaintiff, and Reuters reports that the suit has been dismissed because the plaintiffs didn’t prove that Costco could have known about possible labor abuses in its supply chain, and that the retailer was obligated to tell shoppers about those labor abuses.

The plaintiffs sued under California false advertising laws, since the retailer does not advertise that it sells products that are produced with slave labor. However, Judge Jeffrey White noted that the plaintiffs did not prove that Costco, or any other food retailer, “had a duty to disclose the information about labor abuses in the supply chain … on its product packaging.”

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