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Ships known for keeping slaves have been linked to pet food companies. Big ones.

The good news is knowing about it is half the battle.

Ships known for keeping slaves have been linked to pet food companies. Big ones.
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Waitt Foundation

Not all pet food is evil. But some of it might be.

The pet food supply chain is like a game of telephone, only the first player in that game is a sea full of migrants in shackles, often being forced to labor on ships in international waters for years.


"Modern slavery, pass it on? NO thanks!"

Companies known for keeping slaves have been linked to Iams, Meow Mix, and Fancy Feast.

Most of the little fish that go into some pet food are being caught by sea slaves. In Thailand and the surrounding area. On fishing boats that essentially exist outside any known law.

And there are even several pretty intense lawsuits happening. Here's a peek at one.

Oof. Screenshot of Donna de Rosa v. Tri-Union Seafoods, LLC.

The solution seems easy: verify that the supply chains aren't stocked from bad guys who enslave people and break all the laws. But because the ocean has no ruler, someone's gotta step in. However, first we gotta know about it.

Here are four things to get you started.

1. Know the story behind the people who are being enslaved.

Let's put the human back into human trafficking.

This is the story of Lang Long, a pet food sea slave.

Lang Long left his family's rice patch in Cambodia in search of a better life in construction in Thailand. He had to cut a weird deal with a trafficker to get across the border, but it was his chance!

Nope. Soon after arriving, he was imprisoned by armed men and sold at least twice to different fishing boats. Selling a man! Sounds like ... slavery.

Even Secretary of State John Kerry is hip to this:

I set it to skip ahead to the part where he starts talking about Lang Long!

Yes. I know it's not fun to say that word, but we have to call it what it is. This is the selling of people. This is slavery.

Sad fish is sad. Image via Benson Kua/Flickr.

And your cat's delicious goodies go right back to Lang Long, sea slave. Worst game of telephone ever.

"OMG nooo!"

2. Know where your pet food comes from.

Ask not what your pet food can do for you. Ask "Where is my pet food even from, and WTF is up with its supply chain?"

You'll find out what the pet food companies found out. You don't really know what's up with the supply chain! See below.

3. Know how much your favorite pet food company cares about this slavery stuff.

Many have good intentions, but they should add "no modern slavery in our ingredients" to the top of the list, dontcha think?

Unfortunately, your cat's pet food supplier might not yet have a system that keeps it from using sea slaves to feed Fifi the cat.

Why? Traceability. It's just not possible right now. The ocean system that enslaved Lang Long is essentially the Wild West in 2015.

"Most fishing vessels are exempt from international rules requiring the onboard tracking systems used by law enforcement."

Thanks for not poisoning me or the environment, pet food companies. P.S. Can you check on that slavery thing?

However, things are getting a little bit better:

"By 2020, [Mars, Inc., producer of Iams pet food] plans to use only non-threatened fish caught legally or raised on farms and certified by third-party auditors as not being linked to forced labor."

4. Know just how much your pet really needs to eat fish (at least right now).

Maybe your pet could lay off the pescatarianism for a bit until these pet food companies get it together?

Fishy pet food might not be all that great for Fifi anyway.

According to a 2013 paper by Kelly Scott Swanson, a professor of animal science at the University of Illinois:

"Often based on consumer demand rather than nutritional requirements, many commercial pet foods are formulated to provide nutrients in excess of current minimum recommendations, use ingredients that compete directly with the human food system, or are overconsumed by pets, resulting in food wastage and obesity."

Some pet food companies are actually choosing the same no-fish route. According to the New York Times report:

"Mars Inc., for example, which sold more than $16 billion worth of pet food globally in 2012, roughly a quarter of the world's market, has already replaced fishmeal in some of its pet food and will continue in that direction."

Fifi doesn't HAVE to give up fish. But at least now you know why she might wanna.

This is a lot to take in, I know! Especially since we've been living in the dark about this for so long.

But shackle-free pet food isn't far away if we all step into the light.

With a simple bit of knowledge, every pet owner can be a part of ending human trafficking.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."