Benjamin Skinner, senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. (Photo: brandeis.edu)
US retailers launch investigation into NZ fish
Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 23:10 (GMT + 9)
Two major US retailers are now investigating their New Zealand seafood imports. The move follows a US journalist's recent findings of slavery and poor labour conditions on foreign charter fishing vessels (FCVs) in NZ waters.
Benjamin Skinner, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, crafted a thorough investigative report that was published in Bloomberg Businessweek this week. It tells that America's second-largest grocery store chain, Safeway, and Wal-Mart are looking into the fish they buy from New Zealand.
Skinner's report examines the Korean vessel Melilla 203 seized in Christchurch last December as well as reports of slavery and human trafficking, and "how the USD 85 billion global fishing industry profits from the labour of people forced to work for little or no pay, often under the threat of violence," APNZ reports.
Sister ship Melilla 201 was arrested last Friday.
"In a six-month investigation spanning three continents, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand's waters," Skinner wrote, Fairfax NZ News reports.
He said the vessel’s catches were purchased and processed by Christchurch's United Fisheries, the country’s eighth-largest seafood company, which then sold the fish to distributors operating in the US.
"Those distributors have sold those species to major US companies. Those companies - which include some of the country's biggest retailers and restaurants - have sold the seafood to American consumers," Skinner continued.
Wal-Mart and Safeway decided to investigate after being approached by Skinner.
"As with all of our suppliers, we have a process underway to obtain documentation that [the company it buys its fish off is] complying with the laws regarding human trafficking and slavery, and that [they are] reviewing their supply chain to insure compliance," stated Brian Dowling, Safeway's vice president of public affairs.
Dowling explained that Safeway has yet to receive certification from the company but that the grocer is insisting.
This Friday, the conclusions of a ministerial inquiry into foreign-owned fishing vessels in NZ waters started in July 2011 will be released.
"New Zealand works hard to uphold its international reputation as a world-leading fisheries manager, which is why the government initiated the ministerial inquiry into the operation of FCVs when issues were raised last year," Primary Industries Minister David Carter said.
Peter Bodeker, New Zealand Seafood Industry Council chief executive, said it was vital that the council hear the outcome of the inquiry before deciding on the necessary long-term steps it would take.
New Zealand's Green Party has responded to the debacle by accusing the fishing industry of jeopardising NZ’s clean green brand.
"Disgraceful stories of abuse of foreign workers on foreign charter vessels have been around for years, but Labour and National have been dragging their feet on this issue," said Green Party oceans spokesperson Gareth Hughes.
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- FCV inquiry panel receives copious, diverse submissions
By Natalia Real