Fishermen process squid, one of the most commonly caught species on the Melilla and Dong Won vessels, which were using coerced labor, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Fishermen process squid, one of the most commonly caught species on the Melilla and Dong Won vessels, which were using coerced labor, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. (Photo released by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries under the Official Information Act.)

Industry, Government
 & Media Response to
 Slavery in Seafood

The following is a selection of responses to the article "The Fishing Industry's Cruelest Catch," E. Benjamin Skinner, February 20, 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek.


According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Safeway and Walmart are investigating their seafood supply chains, based on the allegations. 

From Mazzetta, the $425 million Illinois-based corporation that buys seafood from Sanford Limited in New Zealand, according to Bloomberg Businessweek:

From Sanford Limited, New Zealand’s second-largest seafood company, that, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, has operated vessels on which workers were held in debt bondage:


  • The investigation ignited the release of a long-delayed New Zealand ministerial report into labor conditions aboard foreign-charter vessels. The report, which insiders told Skinner was expected to be tepid, issued recommendations for a significant overhaul, and cited the Bloomberg Businessweek article as an example of press coverage that has been “damaging to New Zealand’s reputation as a progressive and fair-minded nation.”
  • The New Zealand Parliament swiftly adopted six of the ministerial report’s 15 recommendations.

  • Three months after the article’s publication, New Zealand Industries and Labour ministers announced that during a four-year transition period, foreign-flagged vessels would be no longer allowed to fish in New Zealand’s waters, as they have for more than 30 years. Following the ministerial report’s strongest recommendations, all vessels will be placed under the jurisdiction of New Zealand’s employment, health, and safety laws—a change that will effectively prohibit the arrangements between New Zealand fishing companies and foreign-chartered vessels discussed in our investigation.
  • In December 2013, New Zealand media reported that “a significant portion of New Zealand’s $1.4 billion annual fish exports face a European Union ban if it has been caught by South Korean vessels,” citing human rights abuses and other illegal fishing activities.


“High-seas slavery: Was your seafood caught by captives?” Marty Moss-Coane, March 27, 2012, WHYY Radio

"Slave Ships: Inside the International Fishing Industry's Labor Abuses," Dan Mauzy, March 15, 2012, Radio Boston, WBUR

"Minister wants observers on foreign fishing boats," March 2, 2012, Radio New Zealand News

“Allegations of Abuse of Foreign-Charter Fishing Vessels,” February 29, 2012, Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan, Radio New Zealand

“Slaves at Sea: Investigation into Foreign-Chartered Commercial Fishing Vessels in New Zealand Waters,” Carol Zall, February 28, 2012, PRI’s The World  

Radio Roundup: Bloomberg Radio, February 24-25, 2012, Bloomberg

WordPress plugin

“The Slavery on Our Dinner Plates,” February 24, 2012,
PRI's The Takeaway

“Sanford asked to explain poor labour allegations,” February 23, 2012, Radio New Zealand

"Major US seafood importer demands explanation from Sanford," February 23, 2012, Radio New Zealand

WordPress plugin

“Indonesian Crew Face Slave Like Conditions, Report Alleges,” Joanna McCarthy, February 22, 2012, ABC Radio Australia 

“Report into Alleged Slavery on Fishing Boats Welcomed,” Annabelle Reid, February 22, 2012, NewstalkZB 

“Union Brands Foreign Booking Agents Parasites,” February 22, 2012, Radio New Zealand  

WordPress plugin

“Fishing Operations Defended off NZ Coast,” Annabelle Reid, February 21, 2012, NewstalkZB 

"US Seafood importer Demanding Answers from Sanford,” February 21, 2012, Radio Live NZ 


"The Boat From Hell Brings Slavery From The High Seas," February 28, 2012, Bloomberg Television

“Call for action over fishing 'slave ships',” February 23, 2012, TV New Zealand 

“Maritime Union calls for Action on Slavery,” February 22, 2012, 3News New Zealand 

“US Investigates Fishing Boat Slave Labor,” Charlotte Shipman, February 21, 2012, 3News New Zealand 

Online News 

“Chance for NZ to curb slavery at sea,” March 28, 2012,

"More scrutiny for foreign charter vessels," March 2, 2012, NZcity

"Korean fishing boats 'damaging New Zealand's reputation'," ONE News, February 29, 2012, TVNZ

"Whole Foods, Costco, PF Chang's Tied to Squid Fishing Slave Labor," Kara Scharwath, February 28, 2012, TriplePundit 

"Bloomberg Businessweek Report on Fishing Labor," Bloomberg, February 28, 2012, Washington Post

"Whistleblower in hiding after 'slavery' storm," Michael Field, February 26, 2012,

“Report exposes slave-like conditions for fishers off New Zealand,” February 24, 2012, International Transport Workers' Federation 

“Slave Free Seas Calls for Minister to front up,” February 24, 2012, 

"Fishing report submitted to Government," Michael Field, February 24, 2012,

“Sanford Responds to FVC Debacle,” Natalia Real, February 23, 2012, FIS 

“Alleged Labor Abuses put New Zealand in Spotlight,” Steven Hedlun, February 22, 2012, SeaFood Source 

“Is the seafood you eat the product of slave labor?” February 21, 2012, BrandeisNow 

“US Retailers Launch Investigation into NZ Fish,” Natalia Real, February 21, 2012, FIS

“NZ fish investigated after report into labour on boats in Kiwi waters,” Hannah Garret-Walker, February 21, 2012, New Zealand Herald also published here>  

“Report Sparks US probe into NZ fish imports,” Michael Field, February 21, 2012, 

“NZ Fishing Industry under International Scrutiny – Greens,” February 21, 2012, Voxy News 

“Walmart, Safeway investigate fishing slave labor,” February 21, 2012, SeafoodSource

“Fishing operations defended off NZ coast,” Newstalk ZB, YahooNews 


"Something Fishy With the Seafood," Kate Darlington, March 8, 2012, Digging Deep

“Editorial: Fishing vessel code reform cannot wait,” March 6, 2012, The Dominion Post 

“The ministerial inquiry into the operation of foreign chartered fishing vessels has confirmed what has long been obvious. The code of practice negotiated by a previous government and the fishing industry to protect foreign crews in New Zealand waters is not worth the paper it is written on. “

"Editorial: Fishing vessel scandal," March 3, 2012, Waikato Times

"Primary Industries Minister David Carter told Parliament the report showed there had been "issues of abuse" on some foreign charter vessels. The influential Bloomberg Business Week was much blunter in a damning report headed "Slaves Put Squid on US Dining Tables From South Pacific Catch". Based on allegations from 20 or so fishermen, it said the coerced labour it described was modern-day slavery, as the United Nations defines the crime.

"Similar concerns about foreign boats have circulated for decades."

“Are You Eating Fish Caught By Slaves?” E.J. Graff, February 26, 2012, The American Prospect

“Just as impressive as Skinner's investigation into the particulars of the fisherman's predication is his outline of the supply chain by which the fish that Yusni and his fellows arrived on plates around the world. The amazing article examines exactly how these Indonesians were lured into bondage, assaulted and abused in international waters, and of how no government has been willing or able to help them or punish their malefactors. Skinner establishes, step by step, how the New Zealand-based wholesaler that purchased that ship's catch sells to such retailers as Costco, Whole Foods, and Sam's Club.”

“Political round-up: February 22,” Bryce Edwards, February 22, 2012, New Zealand Herald 

“The Ministerial report on the issue is due on Friday but a report by American journalist Benjamin Skinner may have a more immediate impact as it has prompted US retail giants Walmart and Safeway to investigate their New Zealand fish supply chain…. It would be a sad commentary on the fishing industry if only commercial pressure was able to achieve improvement rather than the well documented and researched investigations clearly showing horrific employment practices.”

“Editorial: Tackling seafaring slavery,” February 22, 2012, Waikato Times

“It had to happen. For years abuses on foreign-crewed ships have been alleged by a long list of people and groups, including unions, human rights organisations, churches, fishing companies, fishermen, lawyers, academics and journalists. Written testimony by an industry expert told of pleas for help carved into workstations by crews too scared to speak…Now a six-month investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek journalist Ben Skinner has allegedly found evidence of debt bondage on at least 10 ships that have operated in our waters.”

“Outrage at Foreign Fishing Fleet Hypocritical,” Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons, February 21, 2012, New Zealand Herald

“To suggest that New Zealand could only take action within our exclusive economic zone and this is somehow more worthy than imposing sanctions on all imports from sources that adopt such practices is simply hypocritical.

“If New Zealand wishes to close itself from trade with those parts of the world where such practices are de rigueur then that's a conscious choice to make, with clear costs (economic) and benefits (moral), but to selectively discriminate on some arbitrary delineation such as geography simply is not a sustainable logic.”

Other Mentions

“Slaves in the food chain: when compliance with transparency laws is insufficient,” Diane Osgood, February 23, 2012, Osgood Sustainability Consulting

“Labor Abuses Exposed in Fishing Industry,” Not For Sale Campaign, February 23, 2012, Not For Sale 

Last page update: March 10, 2014