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International Human Rights Complaint Filed on Behalf of Workers in Hawaii’s Longline Fishery

PRESS RELEASE

Issued: July 20, 2017

Cassie Burdyshaw, Advocacy & Policy Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network cburdyshaw@seaturtles.org
513-292-3101

International Human Rights Complaint Filed on Behalf of Workers in Hawaii’s Longline Fishery

Environmental and human rights non-profits teamed up to file a complaint against the United States with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) on behalf of workers in Hawaii’s seafood industry. Concerned that slave-like conditions in Hawaii’s longline fishery continue unresolved, Turtle Island Restoration Network (Turtle Island), the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS) and Ocean Defenders Alliance are requesting that the IACHR investigate and help bring an end to these slave-like conditions.

United States laws create a system in which workers in Hawaii’s longline industry do not have a lawful presence but instead are treated as if they are on the verge of deportation while they work to catch fish.(1) The state of Hawaii uses these laws to support its grant of fishing licenses for the industry in which the fishermen work. These laws are in part responsible for creating conditions that encourage fishing vessel captains to use foreign labor without allowing the fishermen to leave the vessel. This in turn creates an atmosphere of risk of human rights abuses, where fishermen additionally lack the opportunity or legal right to report concerns.

“It’s simply wrong to turn a blind eye to the human suffering caused by longline fishing in Hawaii,” said Cassie Burdyshaw, Advocacy and Policy Director for Turtle Island Restoration Network.

“Hawaii’s longline fishery operates in a void of regulation. Government at the state and federal level is failing to ensure even the most basic human rights for these workers,” said Cassie Burdyshaw.

Workers, from countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, have reported a variety of abuses, including:

  • being promised a job with a particular vessel but then being transferred against their will to another vessel.(2)
  • Physical abuse, such as kicking and slapping.(3)
  • Being forced to sleep outside on the deck of a vessel with only a plastic sheet to protect them from the cool ocean winds and water, which made them sick.(4)
  • Not being provided adequate protective equipment, such as boots and a raincoat.(5)
  • Being required to urinate and defecate on the deck in a bucket even when an indoor toilet is available.(6)
  • Being required to shower on deck in front of others, causing embarrassment and humiliation.(7)
  • Having such long working hours that they have little time for sleep, causing them to experience injuries and health problems.(8)
  • Being told that they would have to pay for their freedom, having to pay thousands of dollars despite having their payment kept from them and being paid less than was agreed.(9)

Evidence of the abuse of fishermen in Hawaii’s longline fishery has been documented in a variety of ways, including by human rights organizations, journalists, and in legal action taken by the fishermen. The Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery provides direct services to victims of human trafficking and has also been advocating for changes to the laws that legitimize exploitation of migrant workers. The Associated Press has also published information detailing the prevalence of abuse within the longline industry, noting that hundreds of undocumented men are employed without basic labor protections.(10) A lawsuit filed in the United States District Court includes a long list of abuses that fishermen have endured.(11)

Despite ongoing reports (12) about human rights abuses in Hawaii’s longline fishery, little has been done to protect these migrant workers. The United States Congress, the Hawaii state legislature and additional governmental bodies have failed to take available actions to improve conditions for non-citizen workers in the fishery. The lack of action taken to address ongoing human rights abuses acts as a tacit approval of slave-like working conditions to provide luxury seafood to wealthy United States citizens.

The IACHR is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.(13) Part of the work of the IACHR is to monitor the human rights situation in the Member States, including in the United States of America.(14) The petition requests the IACHR to determine the responsibility of United States of America for human rights abuses in Hawaii’s longline fishery. If the IACHR determines that the United States of America is responsible for having violated these workers’ human rights, the IACHR can make recommendations to the United States of America, such as suspending the acts in violation of human rights; investigating and punishing the persons responsible; making reparation for the damages caused; and making changes to legislation.

Information from the US Department of State indicates that exploitation of both people and natural resources appears even more likely when a product is obtained or produced in illegal, unregulated, or environmentally harmful ways and in areas where monitoring and legal enforcement are weak.(15) Despite ongoing reports about human rights abuses in Hawaii’s longline fishery, the home turf of the United States, the Department of State’s recent report on human trafficking barely mentions conditions in Hawaii.(16)

(1) 46 US Code §8103 Citizenship and Navy Reserve Requirements, available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/46/8103; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I-95 Period of Validity, available at https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1665/~/i-95-period-of-validity; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Vessel Inspection Guide (2012), available at https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/documents/vessel_guide_4.pdf

(2) Complaint for Damages for Human Labor Trafficking, Sorihin, aka Sorihin Sorihin, an individual, and Abdul Fatah, an individual v. Thoai Van Nguyen, an individual doing business as the Sea Queen II, United States District Court for the Northern District of California (September 22, 2016), at pg. 1.

(3) Id. at pg. 8-18.

(4) Id. at pg. 12.

(5) Id. at pg. 14.

(6) Id. at pg. 15.

(7) Id.

(8) Id.

(9) Id. at 18.

(10) Martha Mendoza and Margie Mason, Associated Press, Hawaiian Seafood Caught by Foreign Crews Confined on Boats, available at https://apnews.com/39ae05f117c64a929f0f8fab091c4ee1/hawaiian- seafood-caught-foreign-crews-confined-boats abuses that fishermen have endured.

(11) Complaint for Damages for Human Labor Trafficking, Sorihin, aka Sorihin Sorihin, an individual, and Abdul Fatah, an individual v. Thoai Van Nguyen, an individual doing business as the Sea Queen II, United States District Court for the Northern District of California (September 22, 2016).

(12) Martha Mendoza and Margie Mason, Associated Press, Hawaiian Seafood Caught by Foreign Crews Confined on Boats, available at: https://apnews.com/39ae05f117c64a929f0f8fab091c4ee1/hawaiian- seafood-caught-foreign-crews-confined-boats; Martha Mendoza and Margie Mason, Associated Press, Hawaii May Be Breaking Law By Allowing Foreign Men to Fish, available at: https://apnews.com/c17b1543c8294a40902aeeff608b28e7/foreign-workers-hawaii-may-be-catching- seafood-illegally

(13) Organization of the American States, What is the IACHR?, available at: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/mandate/what.asp

(14) Id.; Organization of the American States, Member States, available at: http://www.oas.org/en/about/member_states.asp

(15) United States Department of State, The Intersection Between Environmental Degradation and Human Trafficking, available at: https://2009-2017.state.gov/documents/organization/228266.pdf

(16) United States Department of State, Trafficking In Persons Report, available at: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/271339.pdf

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