How You Can Address Slavery in the Seafood Industry This Lenten Season

“Trusting his recruiters, Myo believe he was leaving his home in Burma to work in a pineapple factory in Thailand. Yet, when he arrived, he was sold to a boat captain for the equivalent of approximately $430. He was held on the boat for 10 months, forced to work, and beaten regularly. On the rare occasion that the boat docked at port, the officers bribed local police to allow them to keep the fishermen on the boat rather than risking them escaping if they were allowed to set foot on shore. Myo was finally able to escape and sought refuge in a temple. He continues to struggle with deafness, having had his head and ear smashed into a block of ice on the fishing boat.” – 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report

The fishing and aquaculture industry are among the most important economic sectors in the world. It employs a high number of migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor. Trafficking and forced labor in the fishing industry is modern slavery at sea. It occurs at all stages of the seafood supply chain, from catching the fish to processing and shipping it for export. The virtually unregulated fishing industry in many countries, coupled with the global demand for cheap seafood, create the lawless conditions under which trafficking at sea flourishes.

“In my experience storage of fish was more important to the captain and senior officers on a vessel than the accommodation provided to the crew. That really tells you something, dead, fish were more important and more valuable than the crew themselves.” – Fr. Bruno Ciceri, Representative of the Apostleship of the Sea International at the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

The US imports 80-90% of its seafood, and tens of thousands of people are exploited at every link in the seafood harvesting and production chain. With little to no alternative, vulnerable people are deceived and forced/kidnapped into jobs that become trafficking situations.

At Sea

  1. Workers endure inhumane working hours, often working 18-20-hour days, 7 days a week.
  2. They work in unsafe, hazardous, and life-threatening conditions, often on the verge of starvation, and facing a blatant disregard for their basic medical needs and injuries.
  3. Beatings and torture are routinely used to ensure compliance. Disobeying orders or asking for a rest can result in death.
  4. Workers can be held at seas for years on large fishing vessels because of a lack of regulation.

On Land

  1. Men, women, and children are often enslaved in the seafood processing and canning facilities.
  2. They are subjected to long hours, horrendous and unsafe conditions, physical abuse, and neglect of injuries.
  3. Pope Francis has encouraged the Catholic Church to increase its global efforts to end modern slavery, and to build constructive relationships with businesses and government leaders to fight the scourge of human trafficking together.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. Learn how to be an ethical consumer at: http://www.seafoodwatch.org/
  2. Visit Apostleship of the Sea to learn more about mariners: http://www.apostleshipofthesea.org.uk/
  3. Visit USCCB/MRS’ Anti-Trafficking page to learn about their efforts in the maritime industry: usccb.org/stopslavery
  4. Sign the Labeling for Lent Campaign addressing slavery in the seafood industry: https://sistersagainsttrafficking.salsalabs.org/labelingforlent2020
  5. Pray:

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Mother of God and our Mother, you know all the dangers of soul and body that threaten mariners. Protect your sons and daughters who work and travel on the waters of the world and protect also their families that await their return. Star of the Sea, Mother of the Church, give light and strength to those chaplains and lay ministers who bring the love of your Divine Son among mariners. Fill their hearts with a supernatural and life-giving zeal for the apostolate. Star of the Sea, light shining in the darkness, be a guide to those who sail amid the storms and dangers of life. Enlighten the hearts of ardent disciples and bring us all to the safety of heaven’s port. Amen” -Apostleship of the Sea

For more information on the Catholic Coalition’s Labeling for Lent Campaign, please visit The John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy, St. Thomas University School of Law: Labor Friendly Seafood Initiative 2020 or the Sisters of the Good Shepherd National Advocacy Center:  Help End Labor Trafficking in the Seafood Industry .

For more information on forced labor at sea, these online modules are user friendly and free to anyone interested in understanding this problem across the globe and what can be done to protect fishers and seafarers.  Interested in hearing more about Joanna’s trip to Manila and the Stella Maris Seafarer Center in Manila?  Read Joanna’s story!

Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT)