The Global Extent of Human Trafficking in the Seafood Industry

Created on Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The recent release of the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report revealed the extent of forced labor and human trafficking taking place in the seafood industry. The global demand for inexpensive seafood drives some countries to operate within the realm of modern day slavery, exploiting victims with coercion and false descriptions of what life will be like on these fishing vessels.

The report features a four-tier system in which each country receives a ranking that reflects a government’s actions to combat human trafficking within their nation. From Belize to Burundi, it was made apparent that human rights violations are a sizable problem in the seafood industry, both at sea and on land. While there has been a lot of press around Thailand due to its second consecutive year at the lowest tier ranking and its issuance of a ‘yellow card’ by the European Union over illegal fishing earlier this year, other countries also received the lowest ranking in this report that need international pressure to encourage improvements.tip report blog photo

In Belize, migrants come in search of work and many will fall victim to forced labor in the fishing industry. Across the Atlantic, children and young adults in Burundi are trafficked into the fishing industry, often by their own family members, neighbors or friends who recruit them under false pretenses. In Comoros, children on the island of Anjouan are forced into the fishing industry. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, which sells fishing rights to other nations, was downgraded to the lowest ranked tier this year. These islands have become a destination where East Asian women and girls are recruited into prostitution with crew members who dock on foreign fishing vessels. Belize supplies the U.S. with lobster and the Marshall Islands are a key source of bigeye tuna, supplying the United States with 862 tons in 2014. This reminds us that the problem exists beyond Thailand and engagement with these supply chains is needed.

This is a critical time for the U.S. Government to assert its priorities in addressing human trafficking occurring in the global fishing market.

In the TIP Report, the U.S. government recommends that countries accused of human rights violations offer protective services for victims, develop and conduct anti-trafficking education and awareness raising campaigns, and undertake research to study human trafficking within their country. Human rights and environmental NGOs suggest these governments conduct frequent at-sea inspections of fishing vessels, train inspectors on identifying and addressing the needs of trafficking victims, and enforce strict penalties on the trade of fraudulent crew manifests and identification documents at ports. Now that the State Department has illuminated the unlawful and inhumane activities occurring in seafood supply chains, it’s time for government, NGOs, industry, and consumers to all work together to combat the use of modern day slavery in this industry.

To learn how consumers and companies can help prevent human trafficking and forced labor in seafood supply chains read our Q&A.

For more information regarding these issues please visit our Human Rights Resources page.

To learn more about how FishWise can help companies assess risk in their supply chains, please email