Trafficking and Abuse in the Fishing Industry

Fishing trawler on the ocean

“It was 3:30am when I jumped. There were two possible outcomes – we would escape, or we would be killed. But it made no difference. We were working to serve them, and we would not continue. So I jumped into the sea.”

By Daisy Brickhill* Published by FairPlanet, see original article for photos and accompanying personal narratives

These are the words of a man we will call Ko Myo, although that is not his real name. He was a Burmese worker trafficked onto a Thai fishing boat, and then trapped at sea, at the mercy of his abusive captain.

Ko’s story is sadly common. Many migrant fishers are trafficked onto vessels and once out at sea, far from authorities, they are subjected to a kind of hell. Investigations by the Environmental Justice Foundation have uncovered cases of slavery, debt bondage, insufficient food and water, squalid living conditions, physical and sexual assault and even murder aboard fishing vessels from all over the world.

This photo essay shows some of the faces and tells some of the stories of those who have suffered this fate. World Day Against Trafficking in Persons provides a chance to raise awareness of their plight.

The individual stories are horrifying, but it is the systemic nature of the abuse that must be tackled. The first and most effective line of defence is surprising simple. Transparency.

If governments published the punishments they handed out for human rights abuse at sea or illegal fishing, suppliers and retailers would have a clear record to use for their purchasing decisions. If transferring fish between boats at sea was banned, (or very carefully monitored) unscrupulous companies would not be able to keep workers at sea, unpaid, for months or years as they are shifted between boats.

The stories these men told us are harrowing, but they must be heard. Consumers, processors, retailers and policymakers, everyone has a part to play in ending this destruction of ocean ecosystems and abuse of people. Together we can bring fishing out of the shadows.

* Daisy Brickhill is Communications Manager at the Environmental Justice Foundation.

See original article to read individual worker stories.

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