Hawaii Longline Fishing Industry Takes Immediate Action On Labor Abuse
News Release from The Hawaii Seafood Council (HSC) September 20, 2016
Honolulu, Hawaii - On September 8, 2016, an article was published by the Associated Press (AP) which included allegations of forced labor (slavery), human trafficking and poor working conditions on Hawaii longline fishing vessels that use foreign contracted crewmen. “The industry takes the AP report seriously, is actively assessing the situation and is committed to making certain that if found, forced labor and labor abuse is eliminated from the fishing industry” says Jim Cook, Hawaii fishing industry member and advocate.
On the day the AP report was published, a Task Force was formed made up of influential vessel owners, suppliers, the Honolulu Fish Auction and the Hawaii Seafood Council to begin to assess the problem and work on solutions to protect the welfare of the crewmen.
The Task Force hired a consultant who is a recognized expert in evaluating labor practices in supply chains to provide guidance to the group and bring understanding and experience of standards and alternative approaches to social auditing of labor practices.
“The fishing industry has taken immediate action since September 8 to quickly put into place a system of checks and balances to protect the foreign crewmen and to make certain that no fishing vessels in the Hawaii fleet are using forced labor or abusing the crew.” said Task Force member Jim Cook.
Immediate efforts are focused on answering whether forced labor is occurring on individual vessels. Simultaneously, the group began working on developing a Vessel Inspection Checklist to assess the working conditions on the vessels. Then to help verify the findings of the inspection of crew documents and vessel conditions, the Task Force is developing a checklist for interviewing the crewmen so that their voices can be heard.
The Task Force is also taking steps to engage other parties who can strengthen the process including U.S. Custom and Border Patrol and the consulates or embassies that are responsible for looking after the welfare of their countrymen where they are working overseas.
Wholesaler buyers of Hawaii longline-caught fish were alerted to the AP article and the immediate actions being taken to assess the situation, set up an evaluation system and to implement it as soon as possible.
The US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) held two meetings at Pier 17 and Pier 38 for foreign crewmen only without owners or captains present. The purpose was for CBP to inform foreign crewmen about the allegations of force labor and to provide a safe forum for them to alert the CBP if they had any complaints.
The Task Force obtained the United Nations International Labor Office (ILO) definition of Forced Labor and developed a list of criteria and documents required to prove whether or not forced labor is occurring.
A standardized Universal Crew Contract has been designed to address the Forced Labor evaluation criteria and required documents to streamline the assessment process. The Universal Crew Contract has been vetted with the Task Force and a sample of vessel owners. Bilingual versions are being translated into the first languages of the foreign crewmen. This will be completed and the contracts will begin to be distributed to vessel owners for completion with the crew on September 20.
The Task Force is seeking a public statement from the US Custom and Border Patrol on their activities and findings regarding the allegations of forced labor in the fleet. The group is seeking the cooperation of the CBP because of the agency’s central role in inspecting travel documents and monitoring the arrival, working situation and departure of foreign crewmen working on contract on Hawaii longline vessels.
The Task Force held a meeting to inform Hawaii-based seafood wholesalers and longline vessel owners about the allegations of forced labor and what steps are being taken to assess and resolve the issue.
The Task Force has held meetings with large retail and wholesale seafood companies to understand their requirements and evaluation criteria for labor practices in supply chains to guide the assessment process.
To make these changes quickly and credibly, the industry looked for an effective choke point in the distribution channels from vessel to consumer. The Honolulu Fish Auction receives and auctions the vast majority of Hawaii longline-caught fish. “The auction has taken a zero tolerance stance for fishing vessels involved in forced labor.” according to Michael Goto, Task Force member from the United Fishing Agency which runs the fish auction. The Task Force has obtained the commitment of the Honolulu Fish Auction to serve as the choke point. Starting on October 1, 2016, the auction will deny auction services to vessels that are unable to demonstrate that forced labor is not being used based on the review of the Universal Crew Contracts.
The Vessel Inspection Checklist and Crew Interview Checklist are being developed and will be translated and implemented after being vetted. The Task Force is in the process of hiring a person who can be effective in conducting the fleet assessment using the Vessel Inspection and Crew Interview Checklists within the next few months. The Task Force will be able to re-focus efforts based on the findings of the fleet assessment.
“This fishery has proven itself over the years to be responsive and an industry leader in meeting the challenges arising from new information about fishery impacts on fish populations and protected species. The allegations of labor abuses present a serious and new challenge, and the industry is rallying to respond quickly. I am confident that through this process we will ferret out any vessel from the fleet that is involved in forced labor, labor abuse or substandard working conditions and treatment of the crew.” says John Kaneko, Task Force member and Program Director of the Hawaii Seafood Council.
The Hawaii Seafood Council (HSC) is a non-profit (501c3) organization, dedicated to educating the public about Hawaii’s fisheries and seafood on issues of seafood quality, seafood safety and sustainability. HSC’s mission is accomplished through its program of education, outreach, training and research. Find out more about HSC at www.hawaii-seafood.org