Seafood sold in US linked to slavery and torture

by John Hocevar

June 19, 2014

Crew from one of the vessels in the '?zombie' graveyard of rusting Chinese fishing vessels, 150 km off the coast of West Africa. Whe Greenpeace first arrived there were nine or ten ships and on the return journey three had left. The crews said they had gone fishing. This is the hidden story behind pirate fishing - the conditions of near-slavery imposed by ruthless fishing companies in the rush for quick money. The men on board aren't pirates - they're the victims, left to rot on broken-down trawlers, half a world away from their families. Human life is cheap, and profits take priority as the workers exist in terrible conditions often waiting for crew that never arrives. Some of them at have been at sea for two years, and that their trawler hasn't visited a port in eight.

© Greenpeace / Pierre Gleizes

The recent investigative reporting by the BBC and The Guardian ofslavery, indentured servitude and torturous conditions on board Taiwanese and Thai fishing boats confirmed that these issues remain serious problems. Further, chain of custody studies demonstrate that seafood entering US markets and sold at major retail chains is implicated. While the primary focus of this scandal has been on shrimp from Thailand, abuse of workers aboard fishing vessels is a much wider problem, affecting multiple types of seafood from multiple nations.

A recent Coast Guard report identified the US-flagged distant water tuna fleet as among the most dangerous boats for US workers, with among the highest mortality rates in the country. The South Pacific Tuna Corporation, which supplies Bumblebee, was singled out for repeatedly employing foreigners in positions legally required to be filled by US citizens.

Hopefully, this will finally be the wake up call that the seafood industry cannot sleep through. While there has been progress in recent years, most businesses have failed to pay sufficient attention to their supply chain to enable them to be confident that their seafood is legal, never mind sustainable.

Slaveryhas no place in the 21st century, and the products of slave labor have no place on supermarket shelves or restaurant tables.

If seafood businesses don’t respond to this in a serious way, these scandals are only going to continue.Slaverywon’t go away on its own, especially if US businesses are willing to capitalize on it.

From shrimp to tuna, seafood businesses need to step up their game on seafood traceability, and take a good hard look at their supply chains. If that ultra-cheap seafood item seems too good to be true, it probably is. Companies should immediately stop sourcing from CP foods and other known businesses relying onslaveryuntil they can demonstrate unequivocally thatslaveryis no longer part of their supply chain.

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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