Tuesday, January 12, 2016

12/01/2016: Intelligence, integrity in the fight against forced labour in seafood

The brief film that Steve Trent presented at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit last year in New Orleans was both disturbing and powerful. Debt bondage, intimidation, violence and murder on Thai fishing vessels — tales of torture told by undocumented migrant workers forced to endure inhumane conditions at sea, often for extended periods of time, The Global Aquaculture Advocate reports.

The abuses that Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF, the organisation Mr Trent co-founded) uncovered after a lengthy investigation were made public months earlier in an article published by The Guardian. The video footage gave Summit attendees an enduring, emotional context to the scandal that has since embroiled some major seafood suppliers and their customers. The offenses exposed in Thailand — and that Trent contends persist to this day — were the worst he’s seen in a quarter-century of working in human rights and environmental advocacy.
“We always try and refrain from hyperbole and giving grand rhetorical statements on these things. But I’d never seen anything like it,” Mr Trent told the Advocate.

“That includes field investigations in Uzbekistan and Bangladesh and other places. It’s genuinely astonishing how deep and far it went.”

For Mr Trent, co-founder of the Environmental Justice Foundation, confronting abuse is challenging work that doesn’t end once the cameras have captured the images and newspaper reports are disseminated to the public. Perhaps the most difficult aspects in documenting and exposing abuses in the seafood supply chain is navigating the 'bunker mentality' that manifests among the accused.

Image: Glen Bowman
“The Thai government has made encouraging progress, and has even made some arrests, in the time since the reports came out. It’s implemented a new legal framework … it’s not nearly enough,” said Trent.

“The fact of the matter is they are still not engaging in a meaningful, nationwide, joined-up exercise in eradicating human rights abuses,” he added.

“I can guarantee you — I would stake my job, my home and my reputation on this fact — that the Thai seafood industry still has extensive abuse of trafficked, forced-bondage slave labour in it. They wish I was saying something else.”

Trent will “pull no punches” again at this year’s Summit, which takes place in St Julian’s, Malta, from February 1 to 3, a forum in which he’ll have multiple opportunities to share information on human rights and challenge authorities, in person, to make progress. He’ll address Thailand’s labour minister, and he’ll also share the stage with EU Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella as well as the fisheries minister of Ghana, a nation that has been carded for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Read the full article HERE.

Visit the EJF site HERE

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