This morning as I had my morning coffee, I read about a young, Indonesian man whose life as a slave on a Thai fishing vessel began 22 years ago. His name is Myint. The first time Myint asked for his release that he may go home to his mother and family, he was tortured. He was one of the lucky ones. He had seen the countless corpses of fellow slaves who had been thrown overboard and washed up on shore.
Consider Myint, the 15 year old, Burmese son of a widowed mother; brother to two sisters and four brothers. A young man not dissimilar from yourself or someone you know who helps out at home with the chores of cooking and laundry, with some time to play, build and imagine. One day a broker comes to the family with the promise of work. This work represents the world to Myint. He will earn money for his family. He can be the man of which his father would have been proud. After months of begging and pleading, against her better judgment, his mother gives permission for him to go.
His dreams of earning money for his family are fast shattered. He is beaten regularly on the fishing vessel. Tormented with no food and no pay. He is psychologically beaten with degrading words and promised that he will never return to his mother. As a teenage boy, he should be back home with his mother and siblings and dreaming of a fruitful future. Instead, he dreams of escape as he holds onto threads of his memories of his former life.
Myint’s story is not singular. Brokers buy children and otherwise trick people into leaving home in the search of a better life. When human beings are bought and sold into slavery, to be controlled and exploited, it is called human trafficking. It is a global business enslaving more people now than 400 years ago. In the food industry slavery allows us to buy cheap food. Victims are most often treated harshly with little or no pay. They labor in fields as well as on oceans. They work in processing plants and every other piece of the chain that gets food to our table. In large part, slaves are why we can buy inexpensive Thailand shrimp. You may pay triple that for responsibly raised food where workers are paid and treated like the human beings they are.
Myint’s story is a rare one of hope. Myint was able to escape. He made his way back to his family after 22 years. It also offers the opportunity to consider your food purchases. Expand your passion for food’s flavor and sustenance to understanding how your food gets to your table. I found it can be overwhelming and began my research with coffee. Today I look for ethically produced coffee. For you, it may be shrimp and the thought of Myint, the young man you met today.
Thailand’s fishing industry thrives due to human trafficking. This is not unlike many other areas of the food industry and Thailand is not the only country where human beings are sold in return for power and wealth. It’s about greed. It’s never about food and people.
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