Finally Some Steps to Stop Seafood Slavery

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice Ideas and Issues International
This photo released on April 8 by Indonesia’s Ministry of Fishery show hundreds of rescued foreign fishermen, who were gathered during an operation at Pusaka Benjina Resources. (Ugeng Nugroho/Ministry of Fishery/AFP)

New Orleans   When we’re shopping for dog and cat food, most of us think we are ahead of the game if we make sure we’re not buying something that fills up the bowl, but is really mostly pelleted grain of one sort or another. We read the labels and make sure there’s real protein in the bowl with perhaps some seafood or meat. I’m not a cat person, but I’ve passed many a cat’s bowl containing a pungent whiff of the sea. Once we’ve passed the sniff test, the contents test, and figured out if we could afford the food, then we ticked the box off and felt like we had done the right thing for our pets. It turns out that walking through the pet store or supermarket aisles we might have overlooked the fact that 90% of the seafood in the pet food mix is imported, much of it from Southeast Asia, and, oh, by the way, might have involved slavery. Yes, slavery!

The good news, if we want to call the 11th hour action on such horror for workers good news, is that the United States has finally moved to close a loophole that allowed slave-produced seafood in the United States. Say what? Well, yes, it turns out that if Americans and their pets were short on seafood, then we were willing to look the other way at the labor practices that might be involved in filling that gap, including slavery.

Here’s what an official of our government said was the situation:

Kenneth J. Kennedy, an adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is partly responsible for preventing slave-made goods from entering the United States, said the loophole in the antislavery rule had been a frustrating problem for him and his agency. “Once we found out, for example, that Lang Long or the Cambodian boys were being used as slaves to catch seafood being imported into the U.S., we still have difficulty intervening or blocking the fish from entering the U.S. if it could be shown that enough of this seafood cannot be caught domestically to meet American demand,” said Mr. Kennedy, whose agency has been looking into the case of the Cambodian migrants working on Thai ships.

Seems a 1930 law created that loophole, and now more than 85 years later we’re getting around to closing it. The United States is also becoming the 20th country to sign a treaty that would not allow us to support or service ships that are involved in illegal fishing or despicable labor practices, so hear, hear for that as well!

Props also go to two giant labor organizations, because…

“…two of the largest labor unions, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and International Trade Union Confederation, filed a complaint at the International Labor Organization, which is part of the United Nations, about the use of forced labor to produce Thai seafood. “The Thai government has shown a willingness to react, but there are still big gaps in their laws, and even more so in how they enforce them,” said Steve Cotton, the general secretary of the transport union, which represents 4.7 million rail, trucking and maritime workers worldwide. Mr. Cotton said the next step would be for the United Nations labor organization to send a team to investigate the allegations. The complaint carries more weight because it was sponsored by the trade union confederation, which includes the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and is the world’s largest union, representing 176 million workers.

Of course the devil is in the details and whether or not governments really get on the stick and stop the poaching ships and put their feet down finally to stop labor oppression, but all those involved in trying to close this gap deserve some thanks.

It’s past time!


For Two for Tuesday

New Release by Death by Unga Bunga’s Lady Fondue.  Thanks to KABF.

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