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Report Highlights Widespread Labor Abuse on Fishing Vessels, with China as Top Offender

by Michael Nguyen
5 comments
Forced Labor Fishing Industry

A new report by the Financial Transparency Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to tracking illicit financial activities, has shed light on the alarming prevalence of labor abuse in the global fishing industry. The findings reveal hazardous working conditions that at times resemble modern-day slavery on nearly 500 industrial fishing vessels worldwide. However, the identification of those responsible for these abuses remains challenging due to a lack of transparency and regulatory oversight in the industry.

Published recently, this report represents the most extensive effort to date to uncover the companies operating these vessels, where tens of thousands of workers are estimated to endure unsafe conditions every year. Notably, the research indicates that a quarter of the vessels suspected of mistreating workers are linked to China. China’s distant water fleet is known for its dominance in high seas fishing, often taking place in areas beyond the jurisdiction of any single nation. Vessels from other countries, including Russia, Spain, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea, also faced allegations of mistreatment of their crew members.

Forced labor in the seafood industry, while rarely visible, is a pervasive issue recognized as a “widespread human rights crisis” by the report’s authors. Notably, this crisis gained international attention in 2015 when The Big Big News revealed the abuse suffered by migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos employed on Thai vessels, whose catch frequently reached the United States.

The global scale of this issue is alarming, with as many as 128,000 fishers worldwide facing threats of violence, debt bondage, excessive overtime, and other conditions indicative of forced labor, according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. Pressure is mounting on U.S. and European companies to address labor abuse in their supply chains, particularly in industries with a high incidence of worker exploitation.

The Financial Action Task Force, established by the Group of Seven wealthiest democracies, has identified illegal logging and mining as significant drivers of money laundering and encouraged member nations to create publicly available databases to raise awareness about financial flows fueling environmental crimes. However, the seafood industry has largely escaped similar scrutiny, partly due to the inherent challenges of regulating activities that occur hundreds of miles from land.

In a concerning development, President Joe Biden’s administration recently decided to abandon plans to expand the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, which aims to prevent illegal fishing and forced labor on foreign vessels supplying approximately 80% of the seafood consumed by Americans.

Beth Lowell, vice president in the U.S. for the conservation group Oceana, voiced her distress about the report’s findings, emphasizing that “forced labor and other human rights abuses should not be the cost for a seafood dinner.”

One of the barriers to transparency in this issue is that offenders often receive licenses from countries like Panama and Belize, known for their financial secrecy and minimal oversight of their fleets. Of the vessels suspected of abuse with identifiable ownership information, 18% flew flags of convenience, a tactic used by companies to avoid scrutiny and hide their shareholder structure.

The report identifies two Chinese companies, ZheJiang Hairong Ocean Fisheries Co. and Pingtan Marine Enterprises, as the worst offenders, with 10 and seven vessels respectively accused of human rights violations. A third company, state-owned China National Fisheries Corp., is linked to five such vessels. However, none of these companies responded to the Associated Press’s request for comment. ZheJiang Hairong previously claimed ownership of only five of the ten vessels later listed by the Financial Transparency Coalition. Pingtan, on the other hand, faced sanctions by the Biden administration over allegations of illegal fishing and labor abuse and later had its shares delisted from the New York Stock Exchange.

In compiling their findings, the Financial Transparency Coalition meticulously reviewed government reports, media accounts, and complaints from advocacy groups to compile a list of 475 individual vessels suspected of engaging in forced labor since 2010. Disturbingly, flag information was available for only about half of these vessels, underscoring the urgent need for greater transparency and ownership accountability in the fishing industry.

For inquiries, please contact AP’s global investigative team at [email protected] or visit https://www.ap.org/tips/.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Labor Abuse in Fishing Industry

What is the main finding of the report on labor abuse in the fishing industry?

The main finding of the report is that labor abuse, often resembling modern-day slavery, is widespread on industrial fishing vessels worldwide, with China being identified as a significant offender.

Who conducted the research and published the report?

The research was conducted by the Financial Transparency Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to tracking illicit financial activities. They published the comprehensive report.

How many fishing vessels were found to have abusive working conditions?

The report identified nearly 500 industrial fishing vessels globally with hazardous and forced work conditions, where tens of thousands of workers are estimated to be trapped in unsafe conditions.

What are some of the common forms of labor abuse in the seafood industry?

Labor abuse in the seafood industry includes threats of violence, debt bondage, excessive overtime, and other conditions indicative of forced labor, as highlighted by the U.N.’s International Labor Organization.

Why has the seafood industry escaped scrutiny in addressing labor abuse?

One reason is the industry’s activities often take place in remote, lawless areas far from land, making regulation and oversight challenging. Additionally, governments sometimes lack the tools to regulate these distant operations effectively.

How are countries like Panama and Belize involved in labor abuse in the fishing industry?

These countries often license vessels engaged in labor abuse. They have reputations for financial secrecy and minimal oversight of their fleets, making it easier for offenders to avoid scrutiny.

Which Chinese companies were identified as major offenders in the report?

The report identified ZheJiang Hairong Ocean Fisheries Co. and Pingtan Marine Enterprises as the worst offenders, with multiple vessels accused of human rights violations. The state-owned China National Fisheries Corp. was also linked to such abuses.

What action has been taken in response to these findings?

U.S. and European companies are facing increasing pressure to clean up their supply chains in industries with high labor abuse rates. However, the report notes that the planned expansion of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program in the U.S. has been abandoned, despite the importance of addressing these issues.

How can I get more information or contact the investigators behind this report?

For more information or to contact the investigators, you can reach out to AP’s global investigative team at [email protected] or visit https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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5 comments

Activist4All November 15, 2023 - 12:55 pm

Seafood workers deserve justice. Transparency crucial!

Reply
NewsJunkie87 November 15, 2023 - 8:15 pm

fishing industry scary. people suffer. sad situation.

Reply
EconGeek November 15, 2023 - 11:24 pm

no oversight, bad. Need global change. Report eye-opener.

Reply
Reader123 November 16, 2023 - 12:19 am

labor abuse big problem. china worst offender. need action fast.

Reply
InfoHunter55 November 16, 2023 - 12:28 am

Investigation important. Hope more stories on this.

Reply

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