Seven to eight hundred undocumented foreign workers are currently used by the Hawaiian longline fishing fleet that catches primarily tuna and swordfish and these workers lack basic fair labor protections due to a federal loophole that was engineered by past Hawaiian congressmen. It is now time to quickly reform this practice because the workers’ pay is typically much less than federal minimum wage, they cannot set foot on U.S. soil, and they are at very high risk of suffering all the abuses that are associated with human trafficking.
Because these trafficked foreign workers (mostly from S.E. Asia) have no visas and their passports and identification documents are confiscated by the vessel owners/captains, they are not able to ever leave the fishing boats. This de facto permanent detention goes against the basic human right of mobility and provides very little ability for workers to protest or seek relief from unfair labor practices and dangerous workplace conditions.
Just this week the FBI concluded its 10th annual Operation Cross Country in which it arrested 349 individuals for human trafficking for the U.S. and international sex trade. While the sex trade both locally and internationally is certainly more abhorrent than the Hawaiian longline fishing sector’s labor trafficking, our seafood industry cannot tolerate any longer the condition of employment that they impose on their undocumented foreign workers.
The situation is simply unsustainable and not in the best interest of our seafood industry and seafood lovers everywhere. All our efforts to promote seafood as the healthiest and most environmentally friendly animal protein on Earth will ring morally hollow if we don’t act now to stop human rights abuses and unfair labor issues in our own backyard and around the globe.
It is definitely time to reform the Hawaiian longline fishing sector’s use of undocumented workers.
David Glaubke, Director of Sustainability Initiatives