Nearly 4,000 fishermen are stranded on remote Indonesian islands and many have been made into slaves and forced to work for the seafood industry serving American dinner tables, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
An AP special report released earlier this week said many of the fishermen were foreigners from Myanmar who migrated to Thailand for work but have now found themselves captured as slaves, beaten and forced to work for their captors.
One former slave spoke to the AP, which is not releasing the names of the men for their safety.
“This is the worst moment in our life right now. It is even worse than being in hell. We have to work every day to survive… There is no hope for us anymore.”
The slaves are kept in small cages made of wood and metal barely large enough to lie down in, and they live on a few bites of rice and curry a day, according to NPR.
Fish caught by the slaves are mixed with others at processing plants and can make its way into the American food chain and be found at local grocery stores across the country. It could be included in pet food or turn up as fine dining in restaurants, according to the New York Post.
This happens because little attention is paid to the labor market in the world’s seafood industry.
The fishermen stranded on the remote Indonesian islands who aren’t slaves have been abandoned for years or decades and forced to work for food or pocket change to survive.
The number of stranded fishermen abandoned on these islands by their boat captains has dramatically increased after Indonesia passed a moratorium on foreign fishing five months ago, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The men are forced to work as fishermen in some of the world’s best fishing grounds, as dockworkers loading and unloading the day’s catch and in the timber industry cutting and sawing logs.
“Our body is here but our mind is at home. If it was possible to walk back home, we would do it right away. Our lives have no more value than a dog.”
The AP spent a year conducting this special report and worked with the International Organization for Migration as well as Indonesia’s new Fisheries Minister, who pledged to crack down on the practice.
The AP focused its attention on the island of Benjina, but trapped, stranded, and enslaved fisherman can be found in many of Indonesia’s remote islands. Saturday, 21 fishermen were rescued from the island of Ambon after being abused by human traffickers, according to Pattaya Mail.