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US investigates fishing boat slave labour

Tuesday 21 Feb 2012 6:10 p.m.

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By Charlotte Shipman

Two of America’s largest grocery chains are investigating whether slave labour is rife on commercial fishing boats operating in New Zealand waters.

This comes just ahead of the release of a New Zealand Government report which looks into human rights abuses on foreign fishing boats operating here.

Wal-Mart and Safeway are both reviewing the New Zealand fish they import after a six-month investigation by the news agency Bloomberg reported Indonesian crew were physically abused, over worked and not paid.

Slave Free Seas Trust lawyer Craig Tuck has spoken to dozens who back up the claims, and says the issue is “about fighting the business of modern slavery” and protecting the rights of workers on fishing boats.

New legislation in the US means large retailers are now obliged to publicly report their efforts to monitor and combat slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains.

The Greens' oceans spokesman Gareth Hughes says the report highlights what New Zealand stands to lose – “tens of millions of dollars of exports… more importantly, our brand”.

The report comes days before our Government is expected to release the results of a joint ministerial inquiry into foreign charter vessels in New Zealand waters.

The Government says it won't comment until it's had time to consider the report and its recommendations.

It also says New Zealand works hard to uphold its reputation as a world-leading fisheries manager, which is why it initiated the inquiry in the first place.

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