Wednesday, December 7, 2022
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Is there Slavery in your Seafood?

According to the International Labour Organisation in 2016 there were an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labour and 15.4 million in forced marriage.  Of these an estimated 2.74 million (11%) were in the agriculture and fishing sectors.

The UK Guardian tells the story of one victim tricked into slavery in the Thai fishing industry.

“In 2006, a young Cambodian sculptor, Vannak Anan Prum, left his village to look for labouring work. He needed to earn enough money to pay for his wife Sokun’s impending hospital stay to give birth to their first child. He intended to be away for two months. He would not see his wife again for five years. After a middleman on the Thai-Cambodian border promised he could earn a lot of money drying fish, Prum was sold into slave labour, sent to sea on a fishing trawler. He was forced to work around the clock and through storms, allowed a maximum two hours’ sleep by day and two hours at night…….Prum writes about and explicitly draws these horrific experiences in his new graphic memoir of modern slavery, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea. The story includes his experience of jumping ship to attempt to swim to his escape, only to be sold by his “rescuers” into slavery on a palm oil plantation on the Malaysian coast.  His return home to his wife and the daughter born in his absence was eventually secured by LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights organisation, in 2011.”

The Freedom Fund website highlights research conducted by the Raks Thai Foundation that shows “that up to 200,000 migrants working on fishing vessels are prone to exploitation, and even more are susceptible to unethical labour practices in the seafood processing sector. According to the UN, more than 130,000 migrant workers from Myanmar are victims of forced labour in Samut Sakhon, Thailand’s leading seafood processing region.”

Cover of Vannak Anan Prum’s graphic memoir: The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea. Photo: Seven Stories Press

Trafficking in the European Fishing Industry

The UK Guardian has also highlighted human trafficking in the European Fishing Industry in a series of articles including cases in the UK and Ireland where the numbers of people being exploited is estimated to be in the hundreds, which is an outrageous human rights violation.  The US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking publishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which ranks countries on their handling of human trafficking.  The 2020 Report (pdf) continues (since 2018) to downgrade Ireland to Tier 2 because the country does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

There has been a growing recognition of the risks of labour exploitation, forced labour and human trafficking faced by migrant workers in the fishing industry in recent years. Academic and policy studies in countries worldwide, from New Zealand (Stringer et al. 2015) to Scotland (Jones et al. 2020), have pointed to widespread and systemic poor labour practices in fishing. In some cases, these practices amount to forced labour and trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation.

An October 2021 report, conducted by Maynooth University’s Department of Law, explores the experiences of migrants in the Irish Fishing Industry and the exploitative conditions they are working in.  The study has in-depth interviews with 24 male migrant workers in the Irish fishing industry, some of whom are undocumented. More than two-thirds said they could work up to 20 hours a day, with allegations of wages being withheld, being forced to live on the boat without enough food, and working under threat of dismissal and deportation from Ireland. More than half of the participants interviewed said that they had been subjected to verbal and racial abuse.

Conclusion

In the UK, a recently concluded review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 made recommendations to strengthen transparency in the supply chain, while in Australia, the Modern Slavery Act that came into effect this year compels companies turning over more than $100m per annum to report on their supply chains.  These efforts seem completely inadequate to address this tragedy.  It seems that often industries that inflict violence on other species have problems exploiting their human workforce as well.  It seems an easy choice to adopt a plant based diet and at least keep slavery off your plate.  As long as we are willing to exploit other species I expect that we will continue to exploit humans also.

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