Follow Up: Enslaved Fishermen Rescued

by Myriam Fallon

April 3, 2015

An ongoing AP investigation exposed slavery and human rights violations in the seafood industry. Many of the enslaved fishermen have now been rescued.

There is good news from Indonesia today. Last week we told you about an AP investigation into slavery in the seafood industry. Today, many of the enslaved fishermen featured in last weeks AP investigation have been rescued from the Island village of Benjina. Indonesian officials probing for labor abuses in response to the AP story found hundreds of men on the isolated island who had been enslaved, beaten, forced to work 20 to 22 hours a day, and even locked in cages if thought to be a flight risk.

Over 300 men were rescued from the island, including some who had been hiding in the Islands Jungle. They will now be taken to a Fisheries Ministry compound to have their identities confirmed so officials can work with immigration of the mens home countries to hopefully return them to their homes and families.

“I will go see my parents,” said Win Win Ko, 42, smiling to reveal a mouth full of missing teeth. “They haven’t heard from me, and I haven’t heard from them since I left.” He left impoverished Myanmar four years ago He said his four teeth were kicked out by a Thai boat captain’s military boots because he was not moving fish fast enough from the deck to the hold below.

This is a heartening reminder that change can happen. Slavery and labor abuses in the worlds fishing industry are not new problems, but they are solvable problems and everyone can play a role in addressing them.

Getting these men back to their families is wonderful, but thousands of other men are still in the same terrible conditions. While governments in Asia clearly need to take steps to end this problem, so do Western companies that are profiting from these workers. Consumers need to demand more from our companies than lackluster policies that turn a blind eye to the problem until reporters force them to look at it.

There are many changes that can be made in the global fishing industry that would help end slavery while simultaneously making the industry more sustainable. Its these proactive solutions that companies like Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and Starkist need to implement. Join us in telling these companies to take responsibility for their product, how its caught, and who is catching it.

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