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.


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

PRI's The Takeaway


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

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


Online News 


"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: November 3, 2016