China & Japan: NGO uncovers human rights violations and illegal fishing on Chinese ships linked to Japanese supply chains
"Illegal and slave-caught seafood imports from China present unfair competition to Japanese fishermen" 20 August 2021
Appalling human rights violations and illegal fishing on Chinese vessels that import seafood to Japan have been uncovered by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF). 15 crew aboard seven Chinese ships linked to Japanese supply chains spoke of beatings, inhumane hours, foul food and water, withholding of wages and industrial-scale illegal shark finning. To protect Japanese fishers from being undercut by imports using these illegal methods, the new import controls being developed by the Japanese government should be rigorous and comprehensive, EJF said.
EJF investigators interviewed 15 Indonesians who worked as crew on seven different Chinese tuna longliners. These vessels unloaded fish – trans-shipped – to refrigerated cargo ships known as reefers that then travelled to Japanese ports.
Interviews with the crews aboard the fishing vessels revealed truly shocking human rights abuses. The men reported physical violence from the captains and senior crew. One witness said: “The foreman hit me two times; he punched my head and kicked too. He said that I made mistakes, while I think I already did everything right, I do not know what I did wrong.” Another said: “The foreman would hit the crew. He shouted... He said if we were lazy, he would throw us into the sea... It was because we only had a short time to rest.” A third said: “When I first started working on board the vessel, I was told to go into the freezer. However, back then I did not fully understand the work. The foreman then hit me with the metal tool used for cleaning the tuna; There was a problem with the engine, then the captain hit me.”
As well as physical and verbal abuse, working hours were punishing, with crew from one vessel reporting shifts as long as 24 hours with minimal rest in between. Some crew also said they were forced to eat rotten food and drink foul water. One said, “We always ran out of food, I was always starving. We drank distilled water. It was inappropriate. It was yellowish. My stomach hurt after I drank it”.
In addition, the investigation revealed that many of the men suffered bonded labour. Severe deductions were made to their salaries, which sometimes went unpaid for months. “Half of the salary was sent to my family, half was kept by the [Indonesian] agency...The foreman often threatened me. The foreman often deducted my salary because he thought I did not work well,” one worker said.
Steve Trent, CEO of EJF, said: “Illegal seafood is not only harmful to the marine environment, but also deeply unfair to legitimate Japanese fishing companies who work hard to stay within the rules. Illegal fishing also drives human rights abuse, as over-exploited fish populations fail to provide profits, and unscrupulous vessel owners seek to save money by using forced, bonded and slave labour. Fortunately, this problem has been recognised by the Japanese government and the recent steps taken by the Diet to establish import controls are both commendable and timely. Cases like those uncovered by EJF demonstrate why these rules need to be as rigorous as possible.”
EJF recommends that the new import rules:
● Meet emerging international best standards for seafood traceability and foster global collaboration by using the same information in catch documentation as the EU, US and others.
● Allow industry and NGOs to submit evidence of potential illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing to the Japanese government for further action.
● Mandate electronic submission for catch documentation so that fraudulent documents and/or activities can be easily detected.
● Cover as many species as possible, including tuna.
● Include human rights conditions in the import control schemes.
● Support transparency in the fisheries industry, such as publishing punishments handed out for fisheries crimes.