A Chinese seafood provider based in Fiji will no longer import its tuna into the U.S. after authorities discovered that its crew was subjected to forced labor while working on the ship.
Ben Fox of the Associated Press has reported the action is “part of an increasing effort to keep goods produced with forced labor from entering the country.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued an order to stop any shipments in American ports from the Hangton No. 112, a longliner operated by a Chinese national, after the agency determined there was credible evidence that the crew was subjected to conditions defined as forced labor under international standards,” he said.
According to Fox, the announcement is one in a number of recent similar decisions targeting Asian fishing ships with crews that are “made up largely of vulnerable migrant workers from poorer countries.” Once employed on these ships, these individuals are “subjected to horrific conditions by operators traveling farther at sea and for longer periods as fish populations decline worldwide.”
In a statement released ahead of the decision to block imports from the ship, CBP Acting Commissioner Troy Miller said, “foreign fishing vessels like the Hangton No. 112 continue to lure vulnerable migrant workers into forced labor situations so that they can sell seafood below market value, which threatens the livelihoods of American fishermen. CBP will continue to stand up against these vessels’ abusive labor practices by preventing the introduction of their unethically harvested seafood into the U.S. market.”
CBP data suggests that, prior to its ban, more than $40 million in tuna and other fish may have already been imported into the U.S. from Hangton No. 112.
Following its investigation into the fishing vessel, Fox said the CBP “found evidence that the crew of the Hangton No. 112 had wages improperly withheld from them, their identity documents were taken, and they were kept in ‘debt bondage,’ which typically involves charging workers an excessive amount in advance for travel and other expenses and holding them until they worked to pay it off.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. also blocked seafood imports from more than 30 ships within a Chinese seafood fleet that kept its crew in “slave-like” working conditions, leading to several deaths.
“Advocates such as Greenpeace say migrant workers, often from the Philippines and Indonesia, are particularly vulnerable to abusive labor conditions,” Fox reported. “Brokers often take a cut of their wages and ship operators and companies forcing them to work extreme hours and endure brutal treatment, in one of the most dangerous occupations, with no recourse and no way to escape while at sea.”