Seafood Supports Human Slavery: Undercover investigations reveal human trafficking, abuse, and captivity

It’s no secret that even as the world’s fish populations become more depleted each year, the global demand for seafood rises. Yet where does all this seafood come from?

With the world’s oceans rapidly diminishing of life, fishing companies have been forced to venture deeper into the ocean, on longer voyages, in order to make a large catch. This costs more in fuel and labor time, so to cut costs and earn a large profit, it has been uncovered in recent years that much of the seafood sold to Western nations comes from migrants sold into “sea slavery” for cheap or free labor by human traffickers.

The New York Times, Associated Press, and The Guardian, along with several activist groups, have all researched sea slavery, and their reports all ring common: filthy, dangerous conditions on the boat, stolen or trapped workers, usually from Thailand’s neighbors such as Myanmar and Cambodia, child labor, and routine beatings. Each news outlet reported that these trafficked humans were found to have worked on fishing boats that sell their catch to the U.S., U.K., or other countries in Europe. The Associated Press even won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their 18 month investigation, and subsequent reports of, seafood caught by slavery, which you can read here.

To say the labor is inhumane would perhaps be an understatement. The workdays are 18-20 hours long, and when the trafficked workers aren’t fishing, they’re sorting their catch and fixing their nets, which can lead to serious injury. As reported in The New York Times, the scales and fishing line can splice through the fisherman’s skin, yet proper antibiotics aren’t available for treatment, making their wounds prone to infection. “In interviews,” The New York Times states, “those who fled recounted horrific violence: the sick cast overboard, the defiant beheaded, the insubordinate sealed for days below deck in a dark, fetid fishing hold.” If you tried to escape, you’d risk getting locked in chains, or executed.

There’s no way this is allowed, you might be thinking.

Yet when a multibillion-dollar industry is at stake, you better believe it’s allowed. “While United Nations pacts and various human rights protections prohibit forced labor, the Thai military and law enforcement authorities do little to counter misconduct on the high seas.” (The New York Times). Maritime labor laws, as reported by The New York Times, are not adequate, as some ships are at sea for years, far from authorities to check on them even if they wanted to.

While legislation has been put in place since these investigations broke, The Guardian reports that independent investigations by the Environmental Justice Foundation still show “extensive violence, corruption, and abuse.” According to those investigations, “Slaves are still on the boats; nationals of neighboring states are still trafficked in to provide cheap or free labor, and Thai fishing vessels continue to fish illegally and unsustainably, thereby reinforcing the economic incentives to use bonded, forced and slave labor to keep the costs down.”

Aside from the fact that sea life is composed of intelligent living beings, who have been part of this earth much longer than humans have, and even aside from the fact that the fishing industry is clearly unstable and harmful to our oceans, eating seafood supports an industry that exploits, beats, and holds workers captive from their families and homes.

The fishing industry is dirty. Your dollar is your vote. What food you decide to spend your money on has an impact on these billion dollar industries. They might not listen to ethics, but they’ll sure as hell listen to money.

Gardein makes delicious vegan fish cutlets and crab cakes. Sophie’s Kitchen makes gourmet plant based seafood, such as yummy Vegan Toona, shrimp, scallops – you name it, she’s got it. Walk into any local Whole Foods or Health Food store and you will find delicious, healthier, more compassionate and environmentally sustainable vegan alternatives to any cruel food product.

The world is waking up. So open your eyes already and see the beautiful possibilities our future can hold.

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Hodal, Kate. “Slavery and Trafficking Continue in Thai Fishing Industry, Claim Activists.” The Guardian. N.p., 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 27 July 2017.

Urbina, Ian. “‘Sea Slaves’: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 July 2015. Web. 26 July 2017.

“An AP Investigation Helps Free Slaves in the 21st Century.” AP Explore: Seafood from Slaves. Associated Press, 2015. Web. 27 July 2017.






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