24 groups urge Labor Department to act on forced labor in global fishing industry, citing explosive report
by Perry Wheeler
December 17, 2019
Washington, DC – Greenpeace USA and 23 additional signatories, including AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch, Environmental Justice Foundation, and Whole Foods Market, sent a letter to the Bureau of International Labor Affairs’ (ILAB) Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking today, urging it to change its current practice of excluding distant water fishing nations that use forced labor to catch seafood on the high seas from its biennial List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor (“List of Goods”).
Last week, Greenpeace Southeast Asia released a report detailing the ongoing forced labor risks on Taiwanese longline fishing vessels and exposing the recruitment system in Indonesia that traps migrant fishers in horrific conditions in remote corners of the world. The evidence is clear, but ILAB has chosen to give Taiwan and other serial offenders a pass as it only includes seafood harvested within a country’s territorial waters or Exclusive Economic Zone in its report to Congress and the public. While the List of Goods has helped reduce forced labor across many sectors, the Greenpeace letter notes that “ILAB’s seafood exemptions has resulted in a dangerously incomplete picture of forced labor in the global fishing industry.”
Commenting on the letter to ILAB and the new Greenpeace Southeast Asia report, Greenpeace Senior Oceans Adviser Andy Shen said:
“As evidenced in Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s new report, Seabound, there are still disturbing and unreported incidents of forced labor happening throughout the high seas. The United States, as one of the largest markets in the world for imported seafood, has the responsibility to do everything in its power to ensure U.S. businesses are not profiting from modern slavery at sea and that millions of Americans are not unwittingly supporting the cruel exploitation of workers in the seafood industry. ILAB’s practice of exempting seafood caught on the high seas excludes some of the most egregious human rights abuses in the world and leaves Congress and the public with an incomplete picture as to which countries are exploiting workers to maximize corporate profits.
“ILAB should immediately change its position to ensure that elected officials and the public know about the high risk of forced labor in some of the most common seafood sold in our supermarkets, cafeterias, and restaurants. It is time for ILAB to demonstrate leadership on this issue and rectify past mistakes by truly fighting forced labor and illegal fishing in the global fishing industry.”
Contact: Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist, P: 301-675-8766