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article imageEnvironmental Justice says pirate fishing uses slave labour

By Stephanie Dearing     Oct 10, 2010 in World
The organization, Environmental Justice Foundation, has just released a report on its study of pirate fishing. Conditions for workers are very poor, and many are never paid for their labour.
The organization claims that not only are people hired to work on the boats at increased risk of harm due to the conditions of the vessels, and Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) said it found hundreds of workers are not paid, or are only paid with fish. Many workers are targeted, said EJF, by recruiters, who draw in the poor and destitute and confiscate their passports.
EJF has been investigating illegal fishing activities for a number of years now, and discovered the conditions that many workers suffer when looking into illegal fishing in West Africa, Southeast Asia, the Indian and Pacific Oceans. All those regions are primary locations for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
EJF's Executive Director, Steve Trent said “Pirate fishing, driven by a growing unsustainable global demand for seafood, is now threatening the future of world fisheries. There are profound social, economic, and environmental impacts, not least the appalling exploitation and abuse crews aboard these vessels can face. It is simply not acceptable that illegal fishing vessels are able to operate outside the law."
The organization said the ships can operate because of a legal loophole, called Flags of Convenience. Trent said "... it is in our power to stop these pirates and central to the steps we can take is a ban on Flags of Convenience.”
The report, called All At Sea, documents the conditions workers aboard illegal fishing trawlers must live and work under. In a press release EJF states "... The terrible and often illegal treatment of workers aboard IUU vessels include financial exploitation; poor health-care, food and accommodation; poor vessel safety; verbal and physical abuse; incarceration; and abandonment. The worst cases meet International Labour Organisation definitions of forced labour, including physical confinement, compulsion, retention of identity documents, and non-payment of wages.
Crew members aboard IUU vessels have reported being punched, beaten with metal rods, deprived of sleep, imprisoned without food or water, forced to continue working after injury; the worst cases of violence include murder. Travel documents are often confiscated and withheld; cases of abandonment are also reported. Violations of fair and promised pay are common, particularly the extraction of ‘agency fees’ and the withholding of pay at the end of the contract period."
That people are lured by the promise of jobs into what amounts to slave labour and human trafficking is not new. In 2008, Newsweek ran a story about forced labour. Newsweek said the International Labour Organization (ILO) "... reckons the worldwide number of forced laborers today at some 12.3 million. It's a conservative estimate; other approximations rise as high as 27 million."
The ILO stated in a 2009 briefing, "... According to the United Nations, 4 million people a year are traded against their will to work in a form of servitude. Forced labour takes many different forms including debt bondage, sex-trafficking and slavery. This sort of coercion is not limited to any particular region of the world, but rather is a global problem. Victims generally originate from poverty stricken countries within Africa, Asia, and, Latin America. However, 350,000 men and women forced into labour come from industrialized countries."
EJF said most of the illegally caught fish are destined for markets in Europe and Asia. And much of the illegal and unreported fishing is done by fishing fleets that originate from Europe and Asia, reported Reuters earlier this year. Europe, along with most nations of the world, is very interested in combating illegal fishing due to the high cost such activities have on global fisheries.
According to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), "Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major contributor to declining fish stocks and marine habitat destruction. Globally, IUU fishing takes many forms both within nationally-controlled waters and on the high seas. While it is not known for sure how much IUU fishing is taking place, it is estimated that IUU fishing accounts for about 30 per cent of all fishing activity worldwide." That illegal activity is thought to be worth between $4 to $9 billion a year. The DFO explains further, saying "... Approximately $1.25 billion of this illegally captured fish is thought to be taken from the high seas, with the remainder fished illegally within 200-mile limits of coastal states. Illegal fishing is most prevalent where governance measures to manage fisheries are the weakest, which explains why developing countries are the hardest hit by IUU fishing. An estimated $1 billion in IUU fishing is happening in the coastal waters of sub-Saharan Africa each year."
One developing nation that is trying to give itself some teeth to combat illegal fishing is Angola. Angola recently added 10 boats to its surveillance fleet, at a cost of $62 million (US). The boats will expand the nation's capacity to monitor its coast and fight illegal fishing, reported the Angola Press.
The International Transport Workers' Federation explains Flags of Convenience and the issues related to the practice: "A flag of convenience ship is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership.
Cheap registration fees, low or no taxes and freedom to employ cheap labour are the motivating factors behind a shipowner's decision to 'flag out'.
... Once a ship is registered under an FOC many shipowners then recruit the cheapest labour they can find, pay minimal wages and cut costs by lowering standards of living and working conditions for the crew.
Globalisation has helped to fuel this rush to the bottom. In an increasingly fierce competitive shipping market, each new FOC is forced to promote itself by offering the lowest possible fees and the minimum of regulation. In the same way, ship owners are forced to look for the cheapest and least regulated ways of running their vessels in order to compete, and FOCs provide the solution."
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