An investigation by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) exposes human rights abuses suffered by crews on illegal fishing vessels. In a report published on 30 September, EJF documents how individuals working on these vessels can be subject to excessive working hours, incarceration, lack of clean water, withholding of pay and violence. According to EJF, the conditions it witnessed on board some of the vessels meet the UN official definition of forced labour or modern-day slavery.
The report was originally planned to focus on IUU (illegal, unreported, unregulated) fishing and the damage it does to the environment, but their investigations uncovered widespread abuses of human rights. Unscrupulous illegal fishing operators, in their drive to maximise profits and minimise costs, exploit crews working on their boats.
In the report case studies are presented from West Africa, Southeast Asia, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, areas where IUU fishing activities are widespread. All of the vessels investigated by the EJF in the seas off Sierra Leone and Guinea carried EU numbers, indicating that they were licensed to import to Europe having theoretically passed strict hygiene standards. This implies that the fish caught by these illegal vessels could be bought by European consumers.
EJF calls for urgent international action to tackle illegal fishing and labour conditions, including a ban on the use of Flags of Convenience by fishing vessels.