A six month investigation by the Guardian has revealed that major retailers such as Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco are featuring merchandise produced by slave labor. The stores are selling food that men – who are bought, sold, beaten and killed like animals – are forced to produce in shrimp boats off the coast of Thailand.

The Guardian found that the world’s largest shrimp farmer, Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal from the slave boats. The methods used to keep the slaves producing the fishmeal are, not surprisingly, brutal as recounted by former slaves who have escaped the boats.

Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them…

“I thought I was going to die,” said Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain. “They kept me chained up, they didn’t care about me or give me any food … They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings.”

The use of extremely low wage labor has been a constant debate among both consumers and producers, particularly in relation to practices in developing countries in Asia where transnational corporations have raced to find the bottom of the labor market vis a vis wages. But in the Thailand case the workers are not being paid at all nor are they free to leave – they are enslaved, brutalized, and murdered.

Whether Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco will stop buying from those using the Thai slave boats is as of yet unknown.