In the modern world, more people have to endure the terrible fate of becoming a slave than any other time in history. The seafood industry is one place that has little transparency when it comes to labor practices, and with vast, intricate chains the produce goes through, it is extremely difficult to regulate. Thousands of people are trafficked and forced to fish for little to no pay in objectively horrendous conditions. Action has and must continue to be taken to prevent these practices from continuing. To start out, the situation behind slavery in the seafood industry is grim. Reports which were written by a number of papers and associations including the New York Times and the Associated Press showed instances of migrants trafficked and forced to work without pay or under extreme debts (Siciliano). These reports have done little to end it, however.
Southeast Asia’s fishing industry is dominated by Thailand, which earns $7 billion annually in exports. The business relies on tens of thousands of laborers. They often are tricked, sold or kidnapped and put onto boats that are sent to poach fish(Human Rights Watch). The conditions under which a number of them work for such small wages are grim at the least. Victims described routine beatings, imprisonment with chains and manacles, maiming, and execution inflicted as punishment for attempted mutiny or escape (Siciliano). A specific account is stated on the official page for the Human Rights Watch in an article titled “Thailand: Forced Labor, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets.”
It reads, “‘My colleague, Chit Oo, fell from the boat into the water,’ wrote Ye Aung, 32, of Myanmar. ‘The captain said there was no need to search, he will float by himself later.’” It is a desperate situation which no human being on Earth should find themselves in in modern times. There are than 20 million people being trafficked, and that forced labor generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year, according to estimates by The International Labor Organization (Siciliano). Another victim was recorded saying, “‘I’m sure my parents think I’m dead,’ said Tin Lin Tun, 25, who lost contact with his family after a broker lured him to Thailand five years ago. Instead of working in construction, as promised, he was sold onto a fishing boat and taken to Indonesia. ‘I’m their only son. They’re going to cry so hard when they see me.’”(Human Rights Watch).
It goes without saying that this form of slavery deserves not only public attention but action. Lisa Rende Taylor, an anti-trafficking expert said, “We’ve never seen a rescue on this scale before. They deserve compensation and justice.”(Human Rights Watch). Despite the persistently grim reality of slavery, steps have been taken towards preventing it. The actions the U.S. took against IUU (Illegal, unregulated, and unreported) fishing covered several initiatives. This included a system for tracing supplies and a program designed to better the enforcement of bans on illegally caught seafood (Siciliano). The AP tracked fish to supply chains such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and certain brands of pet food like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams(Human Rights Watch). Those businesses then took action to keep slave labor from being rewarded with the money that was paid to them for their products.
A large impact on seafood slavery was the rescue of some of more than 2,000 men from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos that were identified or repatriated, according to the International Organization for Migration and foreign ministries(Human Rights Watch). A multimillion-dollar Thai-Indonesian fishing business was shut down and certain individuals that were involved were arrested and two fishing cargo ships were taken. Importers in the U.S. finally demanded change(Human Rights Watch). People are continuously being saved from enslavement. Burmese men in Ambon went home at August of 2018, long after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers. Holding onto each other’s hands, the men walked toward buses in January, 2018. As they pulled away, a few of those who still had to wait for their opportunity to go home cheered and tossed their arms in the air(Human Rights Watch). “Reports of slavery at sea were a major factor behind the U.S.
Congress’s decision earlier [in 2016] to close a legal loophole that had allowed companies to circumvent a ban on the import of goods whose production involved slave or convict labor.”(Siciliano). Publicizing and speaking up about such issues has and can cause action. Even with the actions that have been taken against slavery in the seafood industry, it will take much more to end the problem. Part of the issue could be reluctance to properly look into the practices of the organizations seafood is caught by. “‘The companies knew their supply chains weren’t transparent. They were obviously embarrassed and humiliated by being called out,’ says Duncan Jepson, founder of Liberty Asia, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on preventing human trafficking.
From our perspective, the question now is, do you want to be involved or exposed to people earning their profits from these types of environments?’” Another issue is overfishing. The less fish surviving and thriving near shores, the further ships need to travel to catch fish. Longer fishing expeditions mean greater costs per trip such and make illegal practices more tempting as a way to turn profit (Siciliano). “Secretary Kerry stated earlier this year, the mistreatment of workers in the seafood industry ‘is as much a story about illegal fishing as it is about human slavery, because the illegal boats are most often where this awful treatment is occurring.’” (Siciliano). The data used by a new risk tool comes from government reports and reliable media reports of known abuses including cases of illegal.
IUU fishing, the number of days a ship is at out of its port, whether there is any documented reason to suspect forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor in a country’s other sectors. Countries with slaves in other industries are more likely to have it in their fisheries (Leschin-Hoar). “The new Seafood Watch database, which took two years to design, assigns slavery risk ratings to specific fisheries and was developed in collaboration with Liberty Asia and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Like Seafood Watch’s color-coded ratings, the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool aims to keep it simple — a set criteria determines whether a fishery will earn a critical, high, moderate or low risk rating.” (Leschin-Hoar). The actions that have been made to address the issue cannot, in practice, stop the abuse of seafood laborers. Only a cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approach that addresses this form of slavery along with lawlessness at sea will make fighting the problem possible (Siciliano).
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