New testimonials suggest “modern slavery” for Southeast Asian migrant fishers working at sea

by Perry Wheeler

December 9, 2019

Jakarta, Indonesia – Thirteen foreign distant water fishing vessels have been accused of abusing migrant fishers from Southeast Asia, in cases so severe it has been characterized by many as “modern slavery.”[1]

In “Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia presents a snapshot of the living and working conditions of migrant fishers – mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines – who end up working onboard foreign-owned distant water fleets. Forced labor, mistreatment, and rampant human rights abuses were common themes in 34 complaints as conducted through direct interviews, paper trail, and corroborative information.[2]

In a testimonial by Mr. Z, 24, former crew on Taiwanese-owned longliner Zhong Da 2 recorded in May 2018, he stated:

“I was forced to work without enough rest and food. I was exhausted and could not continue my duty. I saw that others went for a rest. I stopped and went to the galley but food was not served anymore. My boss came to me and asked, “What’s your problem?” I asked back, “Don’t you know the rules, also I need to rest and eat food, what’s my fault?”[3]

Greenpeace Southeast Asia reached out to representatives from Zhong Da 2, as well as each of the other fishing vessels mentioned in the report (where contact information was available), but Zhong Da 2 provided no comment in response to these allegations.

The report also reveals a shady system of recruitment that traps many Indonesian migrant fishers in conditions of forced labor. Greenpeace Southeast Asia, with the help of Indonesian migrant workers union, Serikat Buruh Migran Indonesia (SBMI), analyzed contracts, letters of guarantee and related documents.

In an investigation into illegal labor practices, one Indonesian migrant fisher onboard Taiwan-owned fishing vessel Chin Chun 12 claimed to have not received any salary for the first six months, while another Indonesian migrant fisher onboard Taiwan fishing vessel Lien Yi Hsing 12 reportedly received only USD50 in the first four months.[4] Chin Chun 12 has not responded to the opportunity to comment while Lien Yi Hsing 12 has responded and denied the accusations.[5]

“Despite national policies to protect migrant workers and international treaties on fisheries management, it is unthinkable that modern slavery continues to thrive within the fishing industry,” said Arifsyah Nasution, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“This business-as-usual can no longer continue, and the never-ending complaints of injustice and abuse must be addressed immediately by all stakeholders. One migrant fisher suffering is one too many. It is absolutely vital that national laws securing migrant fishers’ rights are fully enforced, or, where they are absent, must be developed as soon as possible.”

Greenpeace USA Senior Oceans Adviser Andy Shen added:

“This new report is an indictment of the continuous failure of governments and corporations to address modern slavery in the fishing industry. U.S. seafood buyers should be ashamed of their inaction and take greater responsibility for the rights of migrant fishers in their seafood supply chains. The U.S. government must act on these findings and use all the tools at its disposal to inform the public of these forced labor risks and ensure the seafood we eat is not tainted with the blood, sweat, and tears of Southeast Asian migrant workers.”

With COP25 branded as the “blue COP” due to its focus on the oceans and on the eve of International Human Rights Day, Greenpeace Southeast Asia is calling for all 10 ASEAN member states, particularly, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand to take the lead to address overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and modern slavery at sea. As one of the core recommendations, this would mean ratifying and implementing the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention (C-188), in order to protect their citizens from human rights abuses on fishing vessels.[6]


Report available here.

Photos can be accessed here.

Video can be accessed here.


[1] The fishing fleets that were identified and selected for inclusion in the report either come from or are registered in China Mainland, Taiwan, Vanuatu, and Fiji. See page 28 in report

[2] Overall, four main complaints have been identified in the report:

i) Deception involving 11 foreign fishing vessels

ii) Withholding of wages involving 9 foreign fishing vessels

iii) Excessive overtime involving 8 foreign fishing vessels

iv) Physical and sexual abuse involving 7 foreign fishing vessels.

[3] As mentioned on page 32 of report

[4] Crew salary and deduction table on page 23,24 of report

[5] As mentioned in page 34 of report

[6] Other recommendations covered in page 48 of report



Therese Salvador, Media Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia

E:  M: +63917-8228734

Perry Wheeler, Senior Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA

E: [email protected] M: +1 301 675 8766

Greenpeace International Press Desk, +31 (0)20 718 2470 (available 24 hours), [email protected]

Perry Wheeler

By Perry Wheeler

Perry Wheeler is a senior communications specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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