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HomeChinaThere's something fishy about your seafood. China uses human trafficking to harvest...

There’s something fishy about your seafood. China uses human trafficking to harvest it.


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On the high seas hundreds of miles north of the Falkland Islands, a group of Western reporters boarded a Chinese fishing ship where deckhands pulled them into a dark hallway begging for help, saying they were being held against their will.

While in Uruguay, these same reporters unearthed data showing that for much of the past decade, one dead body per month has been dropped off fishing ships, mostly Chinese, on the docks in Montevideo, often with signs of severe neglect or abuse.

For four years, these reporters, from a journalism organization called The Outlaw Ocean Project, quietly, always with captains’ permission, boarded Chinese fishing ships on the high seas and in national waters all over the world – near the Galapagos Islands, near the sea border with North Korea, along the coast of West Africa – for the sake of inspecting working conditions.

Journalists investigated Chinese seafood operations

They uncovered myriad abuses, including forced labor, debt bondage, wage withholding, excessive working hours, physical abuse, passport confiscation, the denial of medical care and even deaths.

And the abuse doesn’t end at sea.

As part of this same investigation, reporters discovered something even bigger and darker in China’s seafood processing plants. By using cellphone footage from inside the plants, deploying secret surveillance at factories and ports, and mining company documents and trade data, the reporters found that much of the seafood being exported to the United States and Europe from Chinese plants is processed by Uyghur workers – a highly repressed minority population whom the Chinese government detains in “reeducation” camps and forces to work in factories throughout the country.

The United States forbids the import of products made with forced labor, and it has specific laws prohibiting the import of any products made using Uyghur labor.

What ‘Sound of Freedom’ gets wrong:‘Sound of Freedom’ misleads audiences about the horrible reality of human trafficking

Much of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from China

These new revelations about the global seafood industry have serious implications for American consumers and policymakers because more than 80% of the seafood consumed by Americans is imported, and the largest portion of that is caught by Chinese ships or processed in China’s factories.

By some estimates, half of the fish sticks served in American public schools are processed in China. Fish tainted by Chinese forced labor is even showing up in military base cafeterias, federal prison canteens and veterans homes’ dining halls, paid for by federal and state tax dollars. Such seafood also lines the shelves of our major grocery stores, including Albertsons, Costco, Kroger and Walmart.

Even fish marketed as “locally caught” is tainted by these labor and human rights problems associated with China because much of the fish coming out of U.S. waters and onto U.S.-flagged ships is frozen, sent to China for processing, refrozen and shipped back to America. Like fish from Chinese vessels, many of the workers processing U.S.-caught seafood are also Uyghurs under state-sponsored forced labor regimes, meaning importation of this catch is also in clear violation of U.S. law.

Solving problems within seafood industry supply chains is not easy because fishing ships are far from shore, almost always in motion, tough to spot-check, flagged to other nations and crewed mostly by poorer people from the global south who do these jobs with no contracts.

Even so, there are things that we as American consumers can do:

First, contact your senators and representatives and ask them whether the fish bought by the U.S. government with your tax dollars is caught and processed in China. If it is, insist that they consider sourcing it from local fishers and processors. Demand that these lawmakers also impose stricter rules on U.S. importers of seafood, requiring them to collect necessary information about the conditions on these foreign ships and factories.

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