Ending forced labor and human trafficking in the fishing industry

A man in a training course

Fandi was recruited to work on a fishing vessel in Indonesia for six months. It’s dangerous work, and conditions onboard are often challenging, with limited personal space or hygiene options. However, Fandi was promised a good salary and set off on a 200-Gross Ton (GT) Purse Seine fishing vessel. 

When Fandi’s six months came to an end, his employer paid him two million rupiahs ($143 USD). When Fandi questioned the amount, he discovered his employer had deducted operational costs such as fuel, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), licenses and food from his salary. This was not part of the original agreement, but because there was no contract, he was not able to take further action against the employer.

Fandi was not alone in his frustration. The 40 other crew members on the vessel were in the same situation. He didn’t know what to do or who to tell about his experience until he talked to Margono.

Margono is a fish observer who was stationed on Fandi’s fishing vessel. Fish observers have the responsibility to monitor the safety and compliance of commercial fishing. They are trained to look out for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Since fish observers are on board fishing vessels, they are also well-positioned to witness labor conditions first-hand. 

It was fortunate that Margono was able to connect Fandi with Plan International’s SAFE Seas (Safeguarding Against and Addressing Fishers’ Exploitation at Sea) project regarding his complaint. Margono had just received training on indicators of forced labor and trafficking in persons (FL/TIP) in the fishing industry through SAFE Seas, a project working to counter labor exploitation on fishing vessels and seeking to reduce the factors that enable this situation to exist. In collaboration with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and the Directorate General of Wild Fisheries, SAFE Seas intends to integrate labor monitoring into the fish observers’ responsibilities. 

There are still many issues related to labor on fishing vessels that are not being addressed by the government due to unavailable formal reporting and referral mechanisms. The most prominent labor issues fish workers encounter are contractual violations, lack of salary payment or insurance, excessive working hours, inadequate food and water, as well as poor safety and health considerations. Often only fish workers with strong personal networks can get help. The SAFE Seas project is working with the government to develop policies and practices to protect fish workers from forced labor.

With such policies and practices in place, fish workers, like Fandi, would be able to report unsafe conditions and unfair practices that they suffered. And Margono, as a fish observer, could respond accordingly. This story should not end at this stage. The role of government as the duty bearer is to provide support so fish workers like Fandi are protected and able to receive remedy as necessary. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals. 

Funding is provided by the United States Department of Labor under cooperative agreement number IL IL-31472-17-75-K (SAFE Seas project). 100 percent of the total costs of SAFE Seas is financed with Federal funds, for a total of USD $5,000,000 dollars. This material does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government.

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