Indonesia: Burmese workers in slave-like conditions to catch seafood supplying US businesses

In March 2015 an Associated Press investigation uncovered slavery-like practices in Indonesia’s fisheries, where hundreds of migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar – were kept in cages, forced to work and often beaten and tortured. The fish and seafood they catch is then transported to Thailand and via Thai companies is supplied to US businesses, including restaurants, major supermarkets and retailers, and pet shop. The report includes statements by US and Thai companies involved.

After the surfacing of the report, the Indonesia government rescued hundreds of workers and in April launched an investigation into fishing company Pusaka Benjina Resources. The company admitted the maltreatment of workers, but denied accusations that the workers were not paid and were held in cages. The police found that over 1,400 crewmembers were forced to work.

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Article
24 June 2015

Indonesia govt. revokes licenses of 6 major fishing companies after forced labour reports

Author: Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post (Indonesia)

“Govt revokes licenses of six major fishing firms”, 23 Jun 2015

The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry revealed on Monday that it had frozen the operation of six large fishing companies for various illegal practices…The ministry has also revoked the companies’ commercial business licenses (SIUP), banning them from any fishery activities…Among the suspended companies are PT Maritim Timur Jaya (MTJ) in Tual, Maluku; PT Dwikarya Reksa Abadi in Wanam, Papua; PT Indojurong Fishing Industry in Penambulai, Maluku; PT Pusaka Benjina Resources in Maluku and PT Mabiru Industry in Maluku…PT Pusaka Benjina Resources, a joint venture between Thai and Indonesian companies… is suspected of having tricked hundreds of workers into forced labor…Besides slavery, other illegal practices committed by the companies include poaching and tax evasion…[including] evasion of import and export duties on fish and fish products transported across national borders, fraudulent claims for VAT repayments, failure to account for income tax on the profits from fishing activity, evasion of income tax and social security contributions and false claims for social security benefits by fishermen and their families, disguising the origin of fish and under-declaration of catches…Besides freezing the six companies, the ministry [of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries] will also sink 19 more foreign vessels that were fishing illegally in Indonesian waters…

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Article
11 May 2015

Indonesia govt. opens investigation into Pusaka Benjina; fishing company denies slavery allegations, admits maltreatment of the company’s workers

Author: Indonesia Investments

"llegal Fishery, Abuse & Slavery on Indonesia’s Benjina Island?", 22 Apr 2015

The recently exposed case that involves illegal fishery, abuse and even alleged slavery on and near the remote island of Benjina (East Indonesia) has taken another turn after a key witness in the case was found dead in a hotel in Central Jakarta...Yoseph Sairlela, adviser at Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, was beaten to death...Indonesia's National Police stated that it suspects the murder is related to the ‘Benjina-case’...[A] report surfaced that signalled that fishing company Pusaka Benjina Resources - the only official fishing operation on Benjina Island - was suspected of using forced labour and physically abusing hundreds of foreign workers, mainly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Allegedly, these workers (most of whom were underage) were forced to work without pay (sometimes working up to 22 hours per day), were whipped, even held in cages and forbidden to return home or inform anyone about the maltreatment...Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti...reacted by launching an investigation. Herman Wir Martino, Operational Chief at Pusaka Benjina Resources...denying accusations of slavery. Although he admitted that maltreatment of the company’s workers was true, he denied accusations that the workers were not paid and were held in cages. Martino added that tough and inhumane treatment are normal practices among workers at sea in the eastern region of Indonesia. He also confirmed that workers from Myanmar had died while working for Pusaka Benjina Resources. Indonesian Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said that other companies in the area are also suspected of using slave labour. Indonesia’s National Police will charge Pusaka Benjina Resources with human trafficking and violating the manpower law.

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Article
11 May 2015

Indonesia police to name 20 suspects in slavery investigation; confirm over 1,400 Pusaka Benjina crews were forced to work

"Police have 20 possible suspects in Benjina", 9 May 2015

The National Police said...they would name at least 20 people suspects in the...case of slavery in Benjina, Maluku. Head of the human trafficking unit under the police force’s detective division...[said] that most of the suspects were from the fishing firm PT Pusaka Benjina Resources (PBR), a joint venture of Thai and Indonesian companies...A government investigation revealed that at least 1,456 crew members, comprising 1,205 foreigners and 251 Indonesians, were forced to work for long hours with no pay. “According to the evidence that we have gathered, ‘problematic’ crew members were locked up in the isolation chambers for one week to six months with a limited supply of food and poor sanitation. This punishment could be used to discipline workers who got into fights, who did not work as hard as PBR demanded, got drunk or tried to run away,” said [the police].

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Article
11 May 2015

Investigation into Pusaka Benjina sheds light on other abuses in marine & fishery sector

Author: antaranews.com

"Benjina slavery case sheds light on other crimes", 28 Apr 2015

The alleged slavery case by the Thai firm PT Pusaka Benjina Resource (PBR), based in Aru Island, Maluku province, has led to the revelation of other alleged crimes in the maritime and fishery sector. The Ministry of Manpower is probing indications and investigating alleged slavery practices against the crew members of PT PBRs fishing vessels operating in the waters of Aru Island..."The manpower ministry is still carrying out thorough investigations in the Benjina case. We are examining manpower violations while criminal violations are being handled by the police," Manpower Minister M. Hanif Dhakiri stated...The International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that the number of fishermen forced into slavery reaches four thousand...[B]ased on the results of a preliminary investigation, crew members who had been employed for 22 hours a day by the company totaled 1,456, comprising 251 Indonesians and 1,205 foreigners that include 1,196 from Thailand, two from Cambodia, and 20 from Myanmar...[T]he Indonesian Traditional Fishermens Association (KNTI) and the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) stated that the alleged slavery case involving PT PBR had also unveiled other crimes in the marine and fishery sector...Kontras and KNTI have urged the police and the government to conduct a thorough investigation on the death of Sairlela, the key witness in the Benjina slavery case.

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Article
15 April 2015

Indonesia National Human Rights Commission investigates allegations of forced labour on fishing boats

Author: Deutsche Presse-Agentur

"Indonesia investigates allegations of forced labour at sea", 14 Apr. 2015

Indonesia's national rights commission said...it was investigating allegations that hundreds of people, mostly from Myanmar, are forced to work on fishing boats with little or no pay..."Our team is currently interviewing all people involved in the business," said Siti Noor Laila, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights. The head of the police's human trafficking division...said officers from Mynamar were...to join the criminal investigation...

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Article
6 April 2015

Indonesia govt. rescues over 300 fishermen from forced labour & slavery

Author: Al Jazeera

"Hundreds of enslaved fishermen rescued in Indonesia", 4 Apr 2015 

More than 300 fishermen who were rescued by the Indonesian government from forced labour and slavery in the remote island of Benjina have arrived safely in the port of the neighbouring Tual island. The group of fishermen, who mainly came from Myanmar, as well as from Cambodia, and Thailand, were freed following an investigation into claims of human trafficking by the Associated Press news agency. The exploited workers, who were trapped in forced labour for up to 10 years, say they were forced to work without pay, severely abused and locked up in cells...The International Organisation for Migration has reported that as many as 4,000 people in the areas surrounding Benjina have been exloited in the fishing industry.Workers described being beaten, forced to work 20- to 22-hour shifts, being given unclean drinking water, and gave testimonies of many dying at sea.

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Article
30 March 2015

Thai junta leader promises legal action against companies using forced labour

Author: Todd Pitman & Thanyarat Doksone, Associated Press

"Thai Junta Leader to Fight Forced Labor in Fish Industry", 27 March 2015

Thailand's junta leader has vowed to take legal action against companies using forced labor, after an Associated Press investigation revealed that fish caught by enslaved migrant workers was being exported from Thai ports to global markets...Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha acknowledged he had seen this week's AP article and said his government was stepping up efforts to combat the scourge and prosecute those responsible."If they still continue to exploit their fellow human beings, they should not be given any licenses to operate business in Thailand, and they must receive the punishment they deserve," Prayuth said...Prayuth's interview with the Bangkok Post contrasted sharply with comments he made to the media earlier...when he urged journalists not to report on human trafficking without considering how the news would affect the country's seafood industry and reputation abroad.

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Article
27 March 2015

Thai Union Frozen cuts supplier after fishing slavery report

Author: Bangkok Post

"Thai Union Frozen cuts supplier after fishing slavery report", 26 March 2015

Thailand's biggest seafood company said it has cut ties with a supplier named in an Associated Press report after determining it might be involved with forced labour and other abuses. The statement by Thai Union Frozen Products follows a year-long investigation that linked severe abuses on Southeast Asian fishing trawlers to dinner tables in the US and around the world. "Thai Union embraces AP's finding," the company said in a statement that calls the use of slave labour "utterly unacceptable." Thai Union said the supplier was "terminated" immediately. The...statement did not list a specific company, and Thai Union declined further comment. "Consumers can rest assured that our current products are not tainted with the alleged trade supplier," Thai Union said. "This is to prove that Thai Union takes the issue of human rights violation extremely seriously."

 

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Article
27 March 2015

US govt. & business leaders renew call for crackdown on labour abuses in Thai fishing industry

Author: Bangkok Post

"US renews call for Thai crackdown on fishing abuses", 26 March 2015

The US government and major business leaders are renewing their call on the Thai government to crack down on slavery in its fishing fleets, and to punish people who force migrant workers to catch seafood that can end up in the United States. The State Department, the US seafood and retail industries and a member of Congress reacted...to an Associated Press investigation..."It has become increasingly clear that workers in the fishing industry, many of whom are migrants, are exploited at multiple points along the supply chain, from harvesting to processing," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said...The State Department blacklisted Thailand last year for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking. 

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Article
25 March 2015

Report finds Burmese workers in slave-like conditions on fishing boats in Indonesia - supply major US supermarkets, restaurants & pet stores via Thai companies; with companies’ comments

Author: Robin McDowell, Margie Mason & Martha Mendoza, Associated Press

"AP Investigation: Are slaves catching the fish you buy?" 25 March 2015

The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage,...other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States...[I]n the Indonesian island village of Benjina...hundreds of trapped men represent...desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry...Your seafood may come from slaves.The men...were mostly from Myanmar...They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish...Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America's major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams...The tainted seafood mixes in with other fish at a number of sites in Thailand, including processing plants. U.S. Customs records show that several of those Thai factories ship to America...By this time, it is nearly impossible to tell where a specific fish caught by a slave ends up. 

The major corporations contacted would not speak on the record but issued statements that strongly condemned labor abuses. All said they were taking steps to prevent forced labor, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable. Several independent seafood distributors who did comment described the costly and exhaustive steps taken to ensure their supplies are clean. They said the discovery of slaves underscores how hard it is to monitor what goes on halfway around the world. Santa Monica Seafood, a large independent importer...has been a leader in improving international fisheries, and sends buyers around the world to inspect vendors. [refers to Silver Sea Reefer, Kingfisher, Mahachai Marine Foods, KF Foods, Stavis Seafoods, Thai Union Manufacturing, Thai Union Frozen Products]

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