An Associated Press report last month revealed that hundreds of slaves from Myanmar had spent years as slave fishermen in Indonesia after being enticed to a remote island and then trapped there and forced to work. But now, thanks to international pressure, every single subject of the AP’s report has been freed by the Indonesian government. However, years of damage have still been done to both the lives of these slaves and to consumer confidence regarding the sourcing of fish in grocery stores at chains as large as Wal-Mart and Kroger.
And there’s probably more slave fishing camps out there totaling, possibly 4,000 men who were tricked into coming to Indonesia for work but who were instead enslaved and forced to work 20 to 22 hour days at some points.
Most of the fish caught at the slave camps was bound for Thailand were it was processed for onward shipment to the U.S. and other destinations. As a result, the fish that was produced and sold in U.S. markets was marked as originating in Thailand, not Indonesia. The U.S. has urged Thailand to ban slave fishing but Thailand has directly covered up slave fishing in the past, including in the case of this very group of fisherman. What this seems to mean is that until definitive measures are taken then you, as a consumer, can count on some percentage of fish from Thailand to have been caught using slaves. What’s more, it’s pretty apparent that everyone in the industry knows it’s happening.
As for the freed slaves, they face a return to Myanmar, one of the most violence ridden countries in the world.
“I’m really happy, but I’m confused,” said Nay Hla Win, 32. “I don’t know what my future is in Myanmar.”