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U.S. Report to Congress on Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply Chain

A report to Congress, drafted by the Departments of Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and State, addresses the issue of human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. The Report lists 29 countries that are most at risk for human trafficking in the seafood sector –documenting the quantity and value of seafood imports from each listed country, and discusses seafood traceability programs in each listed country.

“The fishing sector has an inherently high risk for human trafficking. The work is considered hazardous and often relies heavily on a low-skilled, migrant, easily replaced workforce, vulnerable to trafficking. Fishing is also inherently isolating, with vessels sometimes spending months to years at sea, which impedes individuals’ escape from or reporting of abuse. Emotional and physical abuse, sometimes resulting in death; excessive overtime; poor living conditions; deceptive or coercive recruiting practices; and lack or underpayment of wages are examples of the abuses sustained by human trafficking victims in the fishing sector. Countries with weak legal protections for civil liberties and workers’ rights; high levels of corruption, crime, violence, political instability, poverty; and immigration policies that limit employment options or movement are at an increased risk for human trafficking. Illicit recruiters, unscrupulous vessel captains, and human traffickers exploit such conditions to perpetrate fraud, deception, and violence.”

The report points out that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) is a significant offender in the use of forced labor in its fishing sector, with numerous reports known on Chinese-flagged and -owned vessels throughout the world. “China has the largest fishing fleet in the world and contains a wide variety of vessels that operate on the high seas and in foreign countries’ EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zone) throughout the world. The majority of the crews on board are migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines but have also been noted to be from Africa and other Asian countries. According to the media, governmental and non-governmental reports, there have been numerous incidents of forced labor reported on Chinese fishing vessels. Workers report excessive working hours, poor living conditions, isolation at sea for months to years, verbal and physical abuse, nonpayment of wages, document, and debt bondage. Deaths have occurred as the result of abuse on these vessels. Workers are sometimes recruited by agencies that use deceptive tactics regarding their wages and contracts, and they are often required to pay recruitment fees and sign debt contracts. The Chinese fishing fleet is a major player in global IUU (illegal, unreported, and unregulated) fishing; crew members forced to engage in IUU activities on board these vessels are also at high risk of undue penalization. Fishing observers report insufficient oversight of the PRC’s fishing industry, which leaves fishermen at increased risk of forced labor.”

The Report also discusses current U.S. government efforts to combat human trafficking in the seafood industry, including enforcement mechanisms and provides ten recommendations for legislative and administrative action to combat human trafficking in this sector. Recommendations include outreach to listed countries, promoting global traceability efforts and international initiatives to address human trafficking, and strengthening collaboration with the industry to address human trafficking in the seafood supply chain.

Source: State Department, December 23, 2020