What is the scope of this investigation?

The investigation relied on several months of interactions with the whistleblower, Joshua Farinella, including time with him in India and the U.S. It also drew from thousands of pages of internal company documents, emails, and WhatsApp messages, as well as footage from security cameras at the plant. A local videographer that we hired put a drone over the plant to check for the compound's layout and to get a better sense of hidden dorms or other areas that were not seen when our reporter visited the plant in person. We also interviewed, through a translator, workers from the plant. We also retrieved data on thousands of shipments sent by Choice Canning to the U.S. and elsewhere, and we reviewed dozens of publicly available audits, industry reports, press releases, and corporate videos.

What materials helped shed light on the plant's living and working conditions?

The whistleblower offered extensive testimony about conditions at the plant. He provided this input while he was employed at the plant and after he left. He also handed over footage to back up many of his descriptions. For fuller insight, we mined videos shared to social media by Choice Canning workers and we reviewed local Telugu-language media reports. Written company documents and WhatsApp and email exchanges—such as those describing curfews, prohibitions on smoking or profanity, day passes, baggage inspections, provisioning of sanitary napkins, bedding, or food problems—added further perspective on day-to-day life at the plant, especially for the migrant workers who lived there. We also used open-source materials from Facebook and Instagram to identify workers tied to the plant and see footage they posted showing sleeping and work areas.

How did we address the whistleblower’s background?

Before talking to the whistleblower, Joshua Farinella, we conducted a full background check on him, which obviously itemized his prior criminal convictions. We showed these court records to a lawyer and had them talk to us about what the convictions meant. We subsequently had Farinella explain the circumstances surrounding each of the charges. We asked Farinella if Choice Canning was aware of his record. He said they were indeed and he cited two specific conversations, including the dates, topics and setting of each, where he discussed it with Choice Canning managers. We also contacted Melissa Doughty, the former head of human relations from Farinella’s previous employer Lund’s Fisheries. She told us that her company was fully aware of Farinella’s record before hiring him and that Farinella had been entirely transparent about his convictions. He was “incredibly honest,” she said about him. In the story, we cited his criminal past and summarized the types of crimes.

What steps were taken to check the authenticity of the documents and other materials?

When the whistleblower provided screenshots of select exchanges, we requested and immediately received full threads. Then we checked those full threads to see if there were any signs that the original material had been altered or taken out of context. We also requested a full download of the whistleblower’s entire Choice Canning email inbox. Original versions of all email attachments were downloaded locally, and their creation and modification dates checked to ensure they were unedited. Dates and times of WhatsApp conversations were verified, where possible, through comparison with internal spreadsheets: for example, if a batch of shrimp was said to have arrived at the plant on a specific date in a WhatsApp conversation, we would cross-reference that detail with spreadsheets and other documents retrieved from Farinella’s email inbox. This cross-referencing method also helped to corroborate other allegations, including those of poor working conditions. In total, we reviewed over 6,000 emails provided by Farinella and all of their attachments, and compared those with conversations on the topic held in company WhatsApp chats, and then obtained further corroboration through social media or local news reports.

For the sake of readers to view the documents in full context, we published the fuller threads of the exchanges. We could not accomplish this for all of the materials we collected in the investigation, however. For example, we have thousands of emails and WhatsApp exchanges that we simply did not have the capacity to redact. But we did attempt to publish the threads that, by publication date, seemed most pertinent to the story. We also hired a data science and forensics firm called Signify to verify the authenticity of the documents. We gave the firm a selection of the documents that had been provided to us by the whistleblower. The firm concluded that the documents did not seem fabricated or altered.

Why did we redact names throughout our published material?

Our decision to redact certain names in the documents and the stories involved a balancing act. On the one hand, we wanted to allow the public to follow who was speaking in various exchanges or documents. On the other hand, we wanted to avoid needlessly naming lower-level staff, who have less decision-making authority. Upper-level managers from the company were named as they seemed to be primary decision-makers. We also named the whistleblower in all settings.

How did we decide the pacing of our outreach to companies and organizations tied to investigation?

We first contacted Choice Canning on March 5, 2024 by email. Subsequently, we also sent a printed letter to the company headquarters. Our hope was to give Choice Canning time to respond to our findings, but we also wanted to be sure to give Choice Canning’s customers enough time to look into the matter and reply as well. When we did not receive a confirmation from Choice Canning of receipt of our inquiries, we moved ahead in contacting other companies so as to ensure fairness to all stakeholders. In the case of companies that were most likely to be named in the story, we sent at least two rounds of emails, alerting them of our findings and asking for input. Some companies and organizations replied and said they were going to investigate the matter. In an attempt at transparency, we compiled all of our correspondence with companies and organizations throughout our reporting on our searchable Discussion Page to show what we asked of them, and to provide their responses to the public in full.

What direct access to the plant did we have?

We visited the plant and one of its offsite peeling sheds before publishing the story. After we disclosed our findings to the company, Choice Canning generously offered an invitation for our reporters to visit the plant. We thanked them but demurred and explained that our videographer had already visited the plant in an unannounced fashion for the sake of getting what we believed is a more unvarnished view. The company also offered to put two managers that they had chosen on the phone with our reporters. We politely declined and explained that we already had reviewed exchanges involving these same managers which, in our view, provided a more candid outlook on their experiences and perspective.

How were shipments with potential problems tracked from the plant in India to the U.S. and elsewhere?

We reviewed documents including internal emails, WhatsApp messages, invoices, and inventory spreadsheets to find specific batches of shrimp. Some of these batches had no problems. Others were discussed as having concerns such as smell, spotting, or, in several isolated instances, a failure of an antibiotic test. Sometimes these documents cited lot numbers, tracking codes, or other distinguishing information such as weight, date, customer, or container number. Some of these documents also provided other useful details like the shrimp type, size, cooked or not, tail removed or not, etc. The combination of these sorts of identifiers allowed us to match certain batches, including some that had been identified as being antibiotic positive (after multiple tests). Trade records then showed which shipments arrived where and when. To pin down what supermarkets sold shrimp coming from the plant, we searched company websites and trade records. We also searched the U.S. military commissary websites which allowed us to identify at least 30 bases that offer a certain type of shrimp from the company.