Is Your Seafood Boosting The Slave Trade?

A year-long investigation found that seafood caught by modern-day slaves on the other side of the globe can end up in the U.S.

Is Your Seafood Boosting The Slave Trade? Photo (cc) by llee_wu

A year-long investigation by The Associated Press has found that U.S. store shelves are among the many places where Southeast Asian slave-caught seafood can end up.

Such seafood is caught off the Indonesian island village of Benjina. The surrounding Arafura Sea, on the north side of Australia, is home to “the world’s richest and most diverse fishing grounds, teeming with mackerel, tuna, squid and many other species,” the AP reports.

Benjina is also home to hundreds of enslaved foreigners, most from the country of Myanmar, formerly Burma. They were tricked into coming there for work or sold into slavery — usually for around $1,000 — and trafficked via Thailand.

The AP talked to more than 40 such slaves:

They said the captains on their fishing boats forced them to drink unclean water and work 20- to 22-hour shifts with no days off. Almost all said they were kicked, whipped with toxic stingray tails or otherwise beaten if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing, as they hauled in heavy nets with squid, shrimp, snapper, grouper and other fish….

In the worst cases, numerous men reported maimings or even deaths on their boats.

The seafood shipment tracked by the AP first docked in Thailand. There, it was distributed to various companies and locations, sometimes mixing with “clean” seafood before it entered the worldwide supply chain. Thailand exports $7 billion in seafood each year, and the U.S. buys about 20 percent of it.

Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America’s major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.

Elsewhere in the world, the AP reported today, over-fishing continues.

Recent reports from the Pew Charitable Trust and the New Economics Foundation, which the AP obtained in advance of their release, indicate that European Union countries on the Atlantic Ocean are still overfishing, contrary to commitments.

What was your initial reaction to the AP investigation? Will it affect how you shop for seafood? Share your thoughts in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More


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