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In the plants that stock North America with seafood, forced labour and dangerous conditions are rife. A whistle-blower shares his story from a facility that supplies a Canadian grocery chain

This article was produced in collaboration with The Outlaw Ocean Project, with contributions from Maya Martin, Jake Conley, Sue Ryan, Joe Galvin and Austin Brush. Learn more about their methodology for this reporting.

The inspectors were coming, and senior management at the sprawling seafood processing plant on India’s eastern coast had to come up with a plan. The facility employed more workers than Joshua Farinella, a 45-year-old American who had recently been hired as the plant’s general manager, believed could be safely accommodated.

Mr. Farinella was in charge of the eight-acre compound, operated by a major exporter of raw and frozen shrimp called Choice Canning. Each year millions of pounds of shrimp were beheaded, deveined and washed in chemicals there, and then shipped to retailers around the world, including Metro grocery stores in Canada.

Mr. Farinella would later tell a reporter that he had become alarmed by the operations of the plant during his first months on the job. The workers, some of whom Mr. Farinella said had to sleep in shifts, and for a while on metal cots without bedding, had to seek permission to leave after certain hours.

Labour contractors had told him in a recorded conversation that a number of workers had not had a day off in a year. The plant, company purchase records show, bought some of its shrimp from unregulated farms in the Indian countryside, and internal tracking spreadsheets indicate that product that had tested positive for antibiotics, meaning it was potentially in violation of food regulations in many countries, was scheduled for export.

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Barefoot workers dressed in casual clothing receive directions in a storage area at a Choice Canning shrimp processing plant in Amalapuram, India, in October, 2023.Joshua Farinella/THE OUTLAW OCEAN PROJECT

Now, with auditors set to visit the plant to do an inspection for the international grocer Aldi South, Mr. Farinella alleges he was tasked with finding a way to hide the surplus of workers. Other managers told him the solution was simple. Mr. Farinella said he was informed that, in the past, the company had leased a building away from the plant to stash the excess workers.

Within weeks, Mr. Farinella would decide he could not continue with Choice Canning, but, torn about what he had been witness to, he chose to collect documents, including spreadsheets of worker head counts and wages, product tracking records, text messages on WhatsApp, e-mails and recorded phone conversations. “How is any of this possible?” Mr. Farinella wrote in a memo to himself, which he shared, along with other records, with the Outlaw Ocean Project, an investigative news organization based in Washington.

Choice Canning is one of the largest Indian shrimp suppliers. It has corporate offices in two Indian cities, Kochi and Chennai, and in Jersey City, N.J. It sent shrimp worth more than $80-million to the United States in 2023.

Mr. Farinella’s decision to make public what he saw at the Choice Canning plant offers a rare and real-time window into problems with monitoring shrimp imports that have existed for years.

The Corporate Accountability Lab, an organization of lawyers and advocates that identifies workplace abuses around the world, released a report this month documenting alleged abuses in the Indian shrimp industry, which the organization says “range from dangerous working conditions to forced labour.” The report does not name Choice Canning specifically.

Onsite shrimp processing and packaging floor at Choice canning in Amalapuram, India. The Outlaw Ocean Project

India is Canada’s largest source of imported shrimp. The country accounted for more than a third of the shrimp brought into Canada in 2023, worth more than $250-million – up from about $175-million three years earlier.

The Corporate Accountability Lab report, based on a three-year investigation, says that while India’s “rampant” abuses have avoided scrutiny for too long, blame extends beyond producers.

Retailers are also at fault, the report concludes, because their push to maximize profits has driven companies in India, Vietnam and elsewhere to slash labour and safety costs.

In response to a detailed set of questions about Choice Canning’s business, labour and safety practices, the company said in a statement through its lawyers that it categorically denies the allegations made by Mr. Farinella, who it said should not be trusted because he has a criminal record. This was in reference to Mr. Farinella’s convictions more than a decade ago for a series of crimes, including drunk driving and trying to make purchases with false cheques.

The company also said that documents from Mr. Farinella had been manipulated. The Outlaw Ocean Project hired a Britain-based forensic data firm called Signify to review a selection of the most important documents. The firm concluded that none of those documents showed any signs that they had been manipulated, such as with the use of image-editing tools.

“Today, Choice’s mission remains the same since its founding: an unwavering commitment to providing a wholesome dining experience to all – right from the comfort of home,” the company’s statement said.

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Whistle-blower and former Choice Canning general manager Joshua Farinella sits down for an interview with a reporter from the Outlaw Ocean Project in Amalapuram, India, on Feb. 5.Ben Blankenship, The Outlaw Ocean Project

Mr. Farinella flew into the city of Amalapuram, in India’s Andhra Pradesh province, on Oct. 29, 2023, to start his new job as general manager of the shrimp processing plant.

Raised in a former mining town in Pennsylvania by a Vietnam veteran and a social security worker, Mr. Farinella had gone off the rails as a young man. He lived on the street temporarily, struggled with drinking in excess and had several run-ins with the law.

He has since distanced himself from his family, having stopped talking to his parents after they disapproved of him marrying a Black woman. For the past decade, he said, he has obeyed the law and built what he described as a respectable career in the seafood industry.

Mr. Farinella is soft-spoken, with a shaved head, neatly trimmed beard and full sleeve of tattoos.

When he accepted the Choice Canning job, he was excited about the prospect of living abroad for the first time. True, he reasoned, this would be a high-pressure position, and he would miss Christa, his wife, but he had negotiated a salary of $300,000 a year, more than double what he’d earned at another seafood company in the U.S. He joked that he was now the best paid shrimp worker who did not own his own company.

He figured if he could stick it out for two or three years, he would be set for life. He looked forward to upgrading his camper van, paying off his car loan and setting aside some money for his stepdaughter’s university education.

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Workers covered in red personal protective equipment work in an assembly line in a Choice Canning plant, in a photo shared to a WhatsApp group of plant managers in October, 2023.Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

The company set him up in a third-floor apartment on a dirt road littered with debris near Amalapuram’s downtown. His kitchen didn’t have a microwave, stove or oven, and was equipped only with a small induction burner for cooking. Toilet paper was scarce – in the apartment and in the neighbourhood’s medley of salons, shops and bazaars.

When he arrived at work, Mr. Farinella said, he was struck by the number of workers streaming through the gate. It reminded him of an airport terminal, though there always seemed to be more people arriving than leaving. In the days that followed, he said, he came to realize how much labour was required to process shrimp in the quantities demanded by the head office – a quota of 40 shipping containers, or more than 600 tons, each month.

On any given day, according to Mr. Farinella, there might be more than 650 workers at the plant, typically hired by third-party contractors. Hundreds of the workers lived locally and went home at the end of each day. The rest were migrant workers who lived at the plant. They served as the backbone of the operation.

The plant ran day and night, racing against the heat, which constantly presented the threat of shrimp spoilage. The migrant workers were mostly women, and almost exclusively recruited from impoverished corners of the country such as West Bengal. Many came from the lowest social caste and were illiterate. They slept in spartan dormitories on-site, on metal bunk beds. A security guard was usually posted outside, near the building’s front door.

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In the middle of the night in November, 2023, a supervisor at a Choice Canning shrimp processing plant sent Mr. Farinella a message about a female worker who had tried to leave the compound.Document provided by Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

At 3 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2023, Mr. Farinella said, he was awakened at his apartment, a short drive from the plant. A manager had sent a WhatsApp message informing him that a woman had been found running through the plant’s water treatment facility at 2:30 a.m.

“She was searching for a way out of here,” the manager wrote matter-of-factly. “Her contractor is not allowing her to go home.” (Later, another manager would explain in a recorded meeting that workers used to escape through a gap in a concrete wall, but this had now been fixed “so no one can get out.”)

The woman made it as far as the main gate, but was turned back by guards.

Forbidding workers to leave their plants when they choose is a violation of the Indian constitution, and also likely violates the country’s penal code, according to the Corporate Accountability Lab. In a recorded conversation, a manager explained to Mr. Farinella that some employees at the plant were allowed out twice a week to shop at a market.

When Mr. Farinella arrived at the plant several hours later, he tried to find out what had been going on. He was told by a human resources manager that it had all been a misunderstanding. The woman hadn’t wanted to leave after all.

Choice Canning denies that any workers are prevented from leaving the plant. The company’s statement said there was one instance in which a female worker attempted to leave in the early morning hours, but she was told it was unsafe and that she had to wait until morning, when the company arranged and paid for her transportation.

A uniformed security guard stationed outside the workers’ dormitories at a Choice Canning shrimp processing plant in Amalapuram, India, in February, 2024, kept track of everyone entering and leaving the dormitory area. Ben Blankenship/The Outlaw Ocean Project
In January, 2024, Joshua Farinella toured the dormitories used to house Choice Canning workers. The rooms were crowded, filled with bunk beds stacked three high. Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

The Choice Canning site is filled with large concrete buildings that house processing facilities, warehouses, freezers, dormitories, electrical equipment and offices. Clothing is hung out to dry on lines strung between buildings and mattresses are laid out in the sun to air. During his time as the plant manager, Mr. Farinella had a wide range of duties: sourcing workers and supplies of shrimp, managing finances and making sure that the plant hit its monthly production quota.

He said he struggled at first to establish how many workers lived on-site, how they were housed and fed, and how their contracts worked. At one point, he stumbled across what he described as a “hidden dormitory” located above the ammonia compressors used for refrigeration.

Managers at the plant knew that living conditions for workers needed improvement, and they spoke regularly on WhatsApp and e-mail about how to fix various problems. Once, a manager e-mailed Mr. Farinella a photo of bedbugs – part of an infestation that the manager said had colonized more than 500 mattresses. Mr. Farinella found workers sleeping on the floor, using only their shirts as pillows. But he said he and others struggled to get authorization for the necessary changes.

“We need more bunk beds immediately, this cannot wait for another day please!” the plant’s vice-president of human resources wrote angrily in an e-mail. “Existing people are facing trouble for months.”

A few weeks later, Mr. Farinella discovered during a recorded conversation with a labour contractor for Choice Canning that 150 workers, all of them women, had not had a day off in a year.

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In January, Joshua Fairnella and a management trainee exchanged WhatsApp messages about a worm found in the breakfast food given to workers at the plant.Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

Mr. Farinella approved an outing for the workers instantly. He later said that he felt like his “hands were tied,” and that he was being blamed for anything that went wrong, despite not being given the power to change things for the better.

It was also hard, he said, to tell how long employees spent working. A human resources executive admitted in a videoconference meeting recorded by Mr. Farinella that she would need to adjust attendance records and timecards in order to pass an audit.

Choice Canning said in its statement that workers are “free to come and go as they please as gate passes are issued upon demand,” and denied that living conditions at the plant are inadequate, noting that the facility has passed social audits.

State law in Andhra Pradesh says workers must be paid at least 450 rupees (about $7) a day. But an invoice from a labour contractor and a separate e-mail exchange between managers indicate that some workers were paid only 350 rupees a day.

“It felt dirty,” Mr. Farinella later wrote to the Outlaw Ocean Project. “I didn’t even want to make eye contact with the workers who were living there or the local workers. I was disgusted and ashamed of everything. I know the workers couldn’t be OK with everything there. And I also knew that every one of them probably thought I was most of or at least part of the problem.”

In December, 2023, Mr. Farinella asked Jacob Jose, Choice Canning’s vice-president of sales and procurement and the son of the company’s chief executive officer, Jose Thomas, if workers could be paid the minimum wage.

In an e-mail exchange between senior executives and managers at the plant, Mr. Thomas declared himself “shocked” that they weren’t already being paid at least that much. One of the managers reminded Mr. Thomas that he had previously told them “not to make any changes in Amalapuram for the time being,” when it came to wages.

In internal e-mails, company managers later said they planned to raise wages. The company said in its statement that it has always paid the minimum wage to all of its “associates,” and recently even gave raises to some of its staff. The statement said workers were paid 450 rupees a day, but that in some documentation those payments were broken down into 350 rupees “per duty” and 100 rupees for transport.

A company video of Jose Thomas (known as JT), the chief executive of Choice Canning. Choice Canning/Outlaw Ocean Project

On Jan. 3, news outlets in India reported that a group of about 70 workers, many of them women, had marched to a police station in Andhra Pradesh province to demand that action be taken against a labour contractor at their workplace, the nearby Choice Canning shrimp factory. The police had previously dealt with complaints about the plant. In 2022, for instance, area residents had protested its piles of foul-smelling trash and its waste water pond, which they said was contaminating their drinking water and local farms. The environmental protests were reported in local news and in clips that surfaced on social media.

The workers were alleging that the labour contractor had stolen their wages and owed the group a sum of about 215,950 rupees, or $3,500 – roughly equivalent to two years of an average worker’s salary. The workers also demanded that a Choice Canning manager be charged, under Indian legislation intended to prevent crimes against members of underprivileged castes, for using ethnic insults against them, according to local news coverage.

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Women sit on the kitchen floor, peeling onions by hand, in Choice Canning’s shrimp processing plant in January, 2024.Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

Many of the workers were members of the Dalit caste, the country’s most disadvantaged group. Local media reported after the incident that Choice Canning had properly paid its labour contractor, who had then withheld the workers’ payment. After being contacted by police, the contractor eventually repaid 135,000 rupees, or about $2,200, to the group.

Choice Canning said in its statement that it always pays its labour contractors on time, and that the plant has passed its labour audits, which Choice said have verified that the company’s wages and working conditions are proper. The statement acknowledged one incident in which workers’ wages were not distributed, but the company said police investigated and blamed the contractor, who was forced to pay the workers and then fired.

Hidden from auditors, Choice Canning used an offsite peeling shed in Kundaleswaram to process some of its shrimp. Joshua Farinella/The Outlaw Ocean Project

In January, inspectors from Aldi South were due to visit Amalapuram to conduct an audit of labour conditions at the plant. While some audits are unannounced, Aldi South’s inspection was scheduled months in advance.

Mr. Farinella said he met other supervisors to discuss preparations, and recorded the conversation. Managers focused on what to tell auditors about the number of workers at the plant, he said.

The Corporate Accountability Lab report says the size of a plant’s work force is of particular concern, because auditors want to check the tally of employees against wage records, available beds and the amount of workspace on the factory floor to see if there are any concerns related to underpayment or safety.

The managers discussed a plan to move workers off-site, to a rented location nearby, before the auditors arrived. Labour researchers say this is not an uncommon practice in dealing with auditors. “We need to show a sizable number to them,” a quality-assurance officer said during the recorded meeting. Eventually, the managers settled on 415 as a number of workers that would seem plausible.

A few days later, in a recorded meeting, Mr. Farinella discussed the plans with a different human-resources executive.

“So basically we’ll call them when the auditor comes in, we’ll call them and say, ‘Go run away and do something else for the day,’” he said.

“Yes,” the executive said.

“How the hell did you come up with that idea?”

“Sir, JT is keeping a knife on my neck,” the executive said, using a nickname for Mr. Thomas, the CEO. “Ideas will come.”

Choice Canning’s statement said allegations that plant officials took steps to hide workers are false.

Asked about the details of Mr. Farinella’s recordings of conversations about the audit, Aldi South said in a statement that it was “taking the allegations seriously” and would need more time to investigate.

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Booths representing various seafood importers at the North American Seafood Expo in Boston in March, 2024. By 2021, India was exporting more than US$5-billion worth of shrimp globally, and was responsible for nearly a quarter of the world’s shrimp exports.Steven Senne/The Associated Press

In 2001, shrimp cost around $12 a pound and were regarded as a delicacy. Since then, restaurants and supermarkets have begun to source them overseas, and prices have plummeted. Today, some seafood restaurants offer unlimited shrimp for around $25.

In 2015, the hidden costs of cheap shrimp were revealed. Reporters found trafficked Burmese migrants, most of them women, held in slave-like conditions in shrimp peeling sheds in Thailand, a country that for much of the prior decade had been the preferred supplier for major Western supermarkets. Some of these food companies cut ties, and imports from Thailand dropped.

India helped fill the void, with assistance from its government, which supplied subsidies and loosened laws restricting foreign investment. By 2021, India was exporting more than US$5-billion worth of shrimp globally, and was responsible for nearly a quarter of the world’s shrimp exports.

Signs for shrimp hatcheries are displayed on a roadside in Uppada, Kakinada district, Andhra Pradesh, India in February, 2024. Much of the shrimp that India produces are raised at small aquaculture farms. Mahesh Kumar A./The Associated Press
The shrimp processed at the plant came from nearby aquaculture farms like this one. Farinella said it was often unclear which farms supplied the plant because deliveries from certified and uncertified farms were routinely commingled. Ben Blankenship/The Outlaw Ocean Project

Choice Canning has long been publicly seen as among the most ethical seafood companies in India. It has started schools and subsidized the arts, and it has touted its certification by industry trade groups as a fair and environmentally responsible employer.

In November, 2022, Choice Canning announced it would be the first Indian company to become a corporate member of the Global Seafood Alliance (GSA), an industry body that promotes responsible practices. Choice Canning sought certification by the Alliance’s monitoring outfit, Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), which offers to certify every stage of a seafood supplier’s production line. The workplace in Amalapuram has BAP approval. Choice Canning says many of the shrimp farms it uses also have BAP approval.

But the report released this month by the Corporate Accountability Lab raises questions about the true value of the certifications issued by BAP. The report says work done by BAP and other such organizations is deeply flawed: The auditing organizations are run by the industry itself; audits are announced well in advance, allowing companies to prepare, and auditors often miss or ignore the use of off-site peeling sheds, where health and safety measures are often lax. BAP and other outfits like it, the report alleges, “function in practice as marketing ploys that fail to protect workers or the environment.”

Much of the shrimp that India produces are raised at small aquaculture farms, which food researchers say sometimes rely on antibiotics to protect the shrimp from pathogens. For health and safety reasons, the European Union, the U.S. and Canada all severely restrict imports of shrimp tainted with antibiotics.

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In a message sent on WhatsApp in February, 2024, a quality assurance manager, told Joshua Farinella that it is 'only in documents' that the plant declares the farms to be BAP certified.Document provided by Joshua Farinella/Joshua Farinella

Mr. Farinella said he was confused to find that when his plant tested for antibiotics in the shrimp it processed, the tests came back positive more often than he had expected.

“If just about everything we pack is BAP and the farms are BAP then how is it that the antibiotics keep coming up?” Mr. Farinella wrote to the company’s senior quality assurance manager in a WhatsApp message.

“We never buy shrimp from BAP farms,” the manager replied. “All are local, unregistered farms.” The manager, in a joking aside, told Mr. Farinella that “you can imagine the level of documentation skills” required to make it seem otherwise. He added a smiley-face emoji.

Mr. Farinella asked how long this had been going on. “It has always been so,” the manager wrote. “India doesn’t have even 10 percent of the BAP farming capacity it claims. Sad, but that’s the reality!”

Choice Canning hired a firm, SGS, to conduct daily audits for internal purposes, to help police hygienic conditions. These audits, which were among the internal documents Mr. Farinella leaked, often detailed sanitary concerns such as the smell of decay, flies, slime, sludge, lack of ice, broken refrigerators, machines contaminated with algae and fungus, hair and black spots on shrimp, and a spittoon full of chewing tobacco on the factory floor.

Annually, auditors from the same firm, SGS, also produced a public-facing audit where the plant was given a clean bill of health.

SGS said in a statement that it could not share the results of its audits for confidentiality reasons, but that they were conducted based on the terms it had agreed upon with its clients.

Presented with these findings, the Global Seafood Alliance said in a statement that it takes them seriously and will investigate if it finds any violations.

Choice Canning said in its statement that the company’s documentation of shipments correctly shows the sources of its shrimp, and that it conducts internal daily audits in an effort to maintain high standards for sanitary conditions, which it said is proof of its due diligence.

“Ship it,” the WhatsApp message read.

This was surprising, Mr. Farinella said, even by the standards he had come to expect at Amalapuram. His boss, Jacob Jose, had just been informed that 225 cases of raw shrimp bound for Aldi South supermarkets in the U.S. had tested positive for antibiotics.

The widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture is leading to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections around the world. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an American government agency, said close to three million antibiotic-resistant infections occur each year in the U.S., killing tens of thousands of people.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a statement that it monitors imports for pathogens and veterinary drugs such as antibiotics, and also conducts audits of foreign food safety systems and facilities that export to Canada. The statement said the CFIA does not impose mandatory testing for all imports, but takes a “risk-based approach.”

The chances of any one batch of contaminated shrimp from Choice Canning or other companies being stopped are low, according to researchers. The CFIA said it randomly inspected 267 shrimp samples from April, 2022, to December, 2023, and found 16 that resulted in violations related to antibiotics and veterinary drugs. (The agency did not say that Choice Canning was among the providers of the samples inspected.) The European Union, meanwhile, checks 50 per cent of imported shrimp from India for antibiotics.

Mr. Farinella said that paperwork meant to trace shrimp to certified farms and track the presence of antibiotics was sometimes misleading. At one point, Mr. Jose had told him not to use the word “antibiotics” in any internal communications.

In a message sent on WhatsApp in January, 2024, Jacob Jose, Vice President Sales & Procurement of the Choice Canning shrimp processing plant, tells Joshua Farinella to use the code word 'Oscar' for antibiotic-positive in internal communications. JOSHUA FARINELLA/THE OUTLAW OCEAN PROJECT
In another WhatsApp message from February, 2024, Jacob Jose gave Joshua Farinella approval to ship ten thousand pounds of shrimp referred to as 'Oscar' to Wakefern. Farinella says that ‘Oscar’ means shrimp that has tested positive for antibiotics. JOSHUA FARINELLA/THE OUTLAW OCEAN PROJECT

“Please use the word Oscar” to refer to shrimp that had tested positive for antibiotics, one manager wrote to Mr. Farinella on WhatsApp, adding, “lol.”

In response to questions about this, Choice Canning denied ever shipping antibiotic-tainted shrimp to the U.S. and said that Mr. Farinella had misinterpreted this exchange and the meaning of “Oscar.” It said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has never stopped Choice’s shipments because of concerns about antibiotics. That, the company said, is because Choice maintains the highest of quality standards.

Mr. Farinella said that even though he disagreed with the Oscar policy, he did as he was told. “Almost 10,000 pounds of Oscar in finished packaging for Wakefern. What to do?” Mr. Farinella wrote on WhatsApp to Mr. Jose on Feb. 1.

“Ship on one container,” the executive texted back.

Off it went to the U.S., packaged in bags marked “all natural.” Wakefern, a U.S.-based co-operative of supermarkets, did not respond to requests for comment.

Throughout his time at the plant, Mr. Farinella received a relentless stream of messages from the company’s senior leadership. Mr. Thomas often seemed incensed at hygiene shortcomings. “Get this cold store mess solved at the earliest,” he wrote in a WhatsApp message. “Whoever did this will suffer in life!”

One day, after being shown a photo of the site in good order, he said that he had just been told that $80,000 worth of his produce had to be thrown away because American customers had complained about the smell. “How do I believe your photos?” he wrote on WhatsApp to his staff on-site. But Mr. Farinella felt stonewalled when he tried to make improvements.

“When I would tell JT what changes I needed to make, I would be flat-out told ‘no,’” he said later.

Mr. Farinella was under constant pressure to generate revenue. In a recorded videoconference meeting on Feb. 6, between Mr. Farinella and three executives, including Mr. Thomas, the leaders expressed frustration with Mr. Farinella for not being productive enough, using what Mr. Farinella described as the “usual veiled threat of firing.”

“I hired you to make money for the company,” Mr. Thomas said. “I don’t know what your January results are. You should be more concerned than I am.”

One of the challenges Mr. Farinella faced at the plant was shrimp spoiling and becoming discoloured because of broken ice machines and overstuffed freezers, WhatsApp messages and e-mails between company officials show. These challenges sometimes led to complaints from buyers.

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A Metro grocery store in Toronto. In January, 2024, Metro grocery brand's director of procurement for fish and seafood voiced concerns about the quality of shrimp produced in Choice Canning's Amalapuram plant. Within the month, Metro reported two shipments had tested positive for drugs and E. Coli at levels higher than what is allowed under Canadian regulations.Laura Proctor/The Globe and Mail

On Jan. 3, Christine Gérard, the director of procurement for fish and seafood for the Metro grocery brand, sent an e-mail to Mr. Thomas, voicing her concerns about the quality of shrimp produced in the Amalapuram plant.

That same day, Francis Bouillon, the chief negotiator of fish and seafood at Metro, e-mailed a divisional head for Choice Canning to say that Metro had received a shipment from Choice Canning’s factory and that it was “not good.” A quality assurance adviser for Metro e-mailed over a full report, with pictures, that laid out several concerns: incorrect weights of products, broken or improperly deveined shrimp and insufficient packaging.

In response, Choice Canning e-mailed a report on Jan. 10, challenging the grocery chain’s findings, but Metro pushed back. ”We will not accept a product that is not compliant to Canadian legislation or our internal specification,” Ms. Gérard wrote in an e-mail dated Jan. 11.

Then, on Jan. 29, Metro sent over another report, this one detailing complaints about two shipments, one of which the company said had tested positive for drugs and E. coli at levels higher than what is allowed under Canadian regulations.

“This is extremely concerning,” Ms. Gérard wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Thomas the next day. “We will review our schedule and let you know of some actions that you will have to take prior to sending containers, to avoid sending product that might be rejected.”

Mr. Thomas wrote in an e-mail to other Choice Canning managers and executives, “I suggest we don’t ship any more containers to Canada till the containers on water are cleared.”

More recently, when asked about the documents unveiled by Mr. Farinella, Metro spokesperson Stephanie Bonk said in an e-mailed statement that the company would investigate “the situation regarding Choice Canning.”

The statement said Metro requires suppliers to abide by a code of conduct for “responsible procurement,” which says suppliers must “ensure that workers are treated with dignity, respect and equity in a healthy and safe work environment.” The code also says suppliers must comply not just with local labour laws but also international standards and the standards of the International Labour Organization, a body of the United Nations.

The Choice Canning plant used an off-site peeling shed in Kundaleswaram to process some of its shrimp, as seen in camera footage from February, 2024, in which workers operate in an open air and unrefrigerated processing area. Ben Blankenship/The Outlaw Ocean Project

In January, Mr. Farinella decided to go public with what he knew about the plant and contacted a journalist. “I think it is likely that I was hired not to manage the facility, but to be the American face that provides the appearance of legitimacy,” he said. For a plant with so many problems, he added, “I’m afraid I can’t be that face.”

A videographer travelled to India to document conditions at the plant. Several days later, Mr. Farinella caught a plane back to the U.S. and e-mailed his notice from the airport.

He retained a lawyer in the U.S., and on March 5 filed formal whistle-blower complaints with the Food and Drug Administration and several other U.S. federal agencies. He wasn’t sure what good it might do, but he wanted to state what he had seen on the record.

The stakes are high, he added. One of the spreadsheets that he’d taken with him showed all the stores that were to receive shrimp from Choice Canning by the end of March, among them Sam’s Club, Dollar General and the Bloomin’ Brands restaurant chain. And, of course, Aldi.

On the same day Mr. Farinella filed his letter, Aldi South’s auditors arrived in Amalapuram. They were there to conduct the inspections that the local managers had been discussing for weeks. After the audit was finished that evening, Mr. Farinella contacted his former colleagues and asked whether they had gone ahead and relocated workers as planned, so that auditors wouldn’t see them. Two of the managers confirmed in writing to him that they had.

“Exactly sir,” one wrote in WhatApp. “All workers are sent outside.”

In depth: Joshua Farinella’s story

Josh Farinella thought he had a dream job at a Choice Canning shrimp processing plant in India. But Mr. Farinella says he saw a dark side of the operation, including mistreatment of workers, shrimp for export tainted with antibiotics and company records falsified. Choice Canning, whose business includes shipments to Canada, has denied all of Mr. Farinella's allegations and accused him of lying. Watch more on The Outlaw Ocean Project investigation.

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