While Iowans engaged in the NCAA Basketball Tournament another story was being written by Associated Press reporters Robin McDowell, Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza about food not far from televisions tuned into the games.
Following a year-long investigation, AP broke the story of slave labor being used to fish, sometimes illegally, in Indonesian waters for catch that finds its way to U.S. markets in stores like Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway. You’ll find slave-caught seafood at the food service company SYSCO, and in restaurants. It is also used in popular pet foods such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams according to AP.
During its investigation, AP interviewed 40 slaves on the Indonesian island of Benjina.
“The men the Associated Press spoke to on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world,” the March 24 article said. “They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was shipped back to Thailand, and then entered the global commerce stream.”
The slaves interviewed by the AP described 20- to 22-hour shifts and unclean drinking water. Almost all said they were kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing.
Runaway Hlaing Min said many died at sea, according to the AP.
“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us. There must be a mountain of bones under the sea,” he said. “The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”
There is plenty to provoke outrage among American consumers. Reactions to this story may include a boycott, begging the question who do we boycott? Better yet would be pressuring companies with our pocketbook by making better choices if we consume seafood. The Environmental Defense Fund provides a seafood selector site here; Greenpeace provides a shopping guide for tuna and there are other rating sites on the web. Slave labor is not the only issue with consuming seafood.
It is important to note this story about slave labor buried in the U.S. food supply chain would have remained hidden if not for the resources of the Associated Press and the work of McDowell, Mason and Mendoza.
Sometimes corporate media does their job, and Associated Press deserves a hat tip on this one.
Read the article “Are Slaves Catching the Fish you Buy” here.
Below is a link to a video version of the same story.