SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand — Every morning at 2 a.m., they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No. 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.

After being sold to the Gig Peeling Factory, they were at the mercy of their Thai bosses, trapped with nearly 100 other Burmese migrants.

No names were ever used, only numbers given by their boss — Tin Nyo Win was No. 31.

Pervasive human trafficking has helped turn Thailand into one of the world’s biggest shrimp providers. Despite repeated promises by businesses and government to clean up the country’s $7 billion seafood export industry, an Associated Press investigation has found shrimp peeled by modern-day slaves is reaching the U.S., Europe and Asia.

NO EASY ESCAPE

Hundreds of shrimp peeling sheds are hidden in plain sight on residential streets or behind walls with no signs in Samut Sakhon, a port town an hour outside Bangkok. The AP found one factory that was enslaving dozens of workers, and runaway migrants led rights groups to the Gig shed and a third facility. All three sheds held 50 to 100 people each, many locked inside.

As Tin Nyo Win soon found out for himself, there’s no easy escape. One woman had been working at Gig for eight years. Another man ended up peeling shrimp there after breaking free from an equally brutal factory.

“I realized there was no way out,” said Tin Nyo Win, 22. .

Last month, AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp from the Gig shed to major Thai exporting companies and then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

It also entered the supply chains of some of America’s best-known seafood brands and pet foods, including Chicken of the Sea and Fancy Feast, which are sold in grocery stores from Safeway and Schnucks to Piggly Wiggly and Albertsons. AP reporters went to supermarkets in all 50 states and found shrimp products from supply chains tainted with forced labor.

European and Asian import and export records are confidential, but the Thai companies receiving shrimp tracked by the AP all say they ship to Europe and Asia as well.

BUSINESSES LAUNCHING PROBES

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to these conditions. Many said they were launching investigations when told their supply chains were linked to people held against their will in sheds like the Gig factory.,

Inside the large warehouse, toilets overflowed with feces, and the putrid smell of raw sewage wafted from an open gutter just outside the work area. Young children ran barefoot through suffocating dorm rooms. Entire families labored side-by-side at rows of stainless steel counters piled high with tubs of shrimp.

Shrimp is the most-loved seafood in the U.S., with Americans downing 1.3 billion pounds every year, or about 4 pounds per person. Once a luxury, it became cheap enough for stir-fries and scampis when Asian farmers started growing it in ponds three decades ago. Thailand quickly dominated the market and now sends nearly half of its supply to the U.S.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING HUB

The Southeast Asian country is one of the worst human trafficking hubs on earth. It has been blacklisted for the past two years by the U.S. State Department, which cited complicityby Thai officials. The European Union issued a warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban.

Consumers enjoy the convenience of dumping shrimp straight from freezer to skillet, the result of labor-intensive peeling and cleaning. Unable to keep up with demand, exporters get their supply from peeling sheds that are sometimes nothing more than crude garages adjacent to the boss’s house. Supply chains are so complicated that, on any given day, buyers may not know exactly where the shrimp comes from..

Tin Nyo Win and his wife were taken to the Gig Peeling Factory in July, lured from home by a broker with promises of good-paying jobs. After being sold to the Gig shed, the couple learned they would have to work off what was considered their combined worth — $830. It was an insurmountable debt.

After being roughed up one night by a supervisor, Tin Nyo Win and his wife decided they couldn’t take the threats anymore.

They ran.

Less than 24 hours later, Tin Nyo Win’s wife was captured at a market by the shed manager.

Tin Nyo Win sought help from a local labor rights group, which prompted police to take action.

The Gig Peeling Factory is now closed, with workers moved to another shed linked to the same owners, said Chaiyuth Thomya, the superintendent of Samut Sakhon’s main police station. A Gig owner reached by phone by the AP declined to comment.

Susan Coppedge, the U.S. State Department’s new anti-trafficking ambassador, said problems persist because brokers, boat captains and seafood firms aren’t held accountable and victims have no recourse.

She added that American consumers “can speak through their wallets and tell companies: ‘We don’t want to buy things made with slavery.'”