Canadian consumers are eating seafood caught by modern-day slaves
Vessels from China, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Russia at high risk of slavery READ THE FULL STORY AT THESTAR.COM/ VANCOUVER READ THE FULL STORY AT THESTAR.COM/VANCOUVER
VANCOUVER—There’s a hidden cost to buying seafood in Canada, experts say: widespread labour abuses and modern slavery on the high seas.
And Canada is lagging behind other developed countries in suppressing the process, which occurs in several other industries, such as textiles and timber, they argue.
Meanwhile, these labour abuses function as undercover subsidies that allow distant-water fishing fleets to overfish, despite the fact that it should normally be unprofitable, according to research published Wednesday from the Sea Around Us initiative at the University of British Columbia and University of Western Australia.
“These companies can make a profit only if they get subsidies and if they don’t pay for their crews,” explained Daniel Pauly, principal investigator at Sea Around Us.
“And the fish will end up in Canada.”
That’s because transshipment is a common practice, wherein multiple fishing vessels are combined at sea before landing at port to sell to wholesalers.
Seafood caught under conditions of modern slavery — defined as any exploitation that a person cannot avoid, refuse or leave because of threats, violence, abuse or deception — is “laundered” by mixing it with other fish before it enters the supply chain, Pauly said in a phone interview.
Then, the fish is exported internationally. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, Canada ranked the sixth highest globally for annual imports of $15 billion (U.S.) worth of goods at risk of being produced through modern slavery. It found that 24.9 million people are working in conditions of modern slavery. But abhorrent working conditions in the seafood sector is not new.
A 2015 Associated Press investigation found instances of workers on Indonesian islands being marooned and kept in cages while cap tains returned to port. The fish and seafood they caught was traced to supermarkets and supply chains around the world.
Researchers combined fisheries informa tion from Sea Around with national-level da modern slavery — and found countries whose fleets relied heavily on government subsidies, fish in the high seas and fail to report their actual catch tend to fish beyond sustainable limits and are at high risk of labour abuses.
Yet while companies turn a “huge profit,” residents in developing countries are placed under extreme duress to find ways to work and survive. Modern slavery is defined as any exploitation that a person cannot avoid, refuse or leave because of threats, violence, abuse or deception.