New Report Reveals Sharp Rise In Indonesian Slavery At Sea

Published June 6th, 2021 - 07:30 GMT
New Report Reveals Sharp Rise In Indonesian Slavery At Sea
In the report, based on complaints the SBMI received from May 2019 to June 2020, investigators alleged that 20 Indonesian hiring agencies and 26 fishing firms from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Ivory Coast, and Nauru had been involved in forced labor against Indonesian seafarers. (Shutterstock)
The number of reported cases of forced labor among Indonesian migrant fishermen has risen nearly twofold in one year, a new report has shown, prompting renewed calls for the government to ratify a convention protecting workers at sea.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest sea workforce source, after China and the Philippines, with 1.2 million nationals working on merchant and fishing vessels, according to data from the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment.

Although these workers send around IDR150 trillion ($10.5 billion) in annual remittances, Indonesia has not yet ratified the 2007 Work in Fishing Convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO C188), which aims to ensure that crew members of fishing vessels are entitled to good working conditions and safety.

“Forced Labor at Sea: The Case of Indonesian Migrant Fishers,” the new report released by Greenpeace and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) earlier this week, showed that the situation of Indonesia’s sea workforce had worsened since 2019.

“If we look at the number of complaints we received from the seafarers, it increased to 62 complaints from 34 in our previous report,” Afdillah, ocean campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, told Arab News on Friday.

In the report, based on complaints the SBMI received from May 2019 to June 2020, investigators alleged that 20 Indonesian hiring agencies and 26 fishing firms from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Ivory Coast, and Nauru had been involved in forced labor against Indonesian seafarers.

They also identified an increase from 13 vessels in 2019 to 45 in 2020 where workers were facing abuse. “We believe this is just the tip of an iceberg, since we can only document complaints filed to SBMI, and we know that there are many more unreported and unmonitored cases out there,” Afdillah said.

Calls on the Indonesian government to act have mounted in the past months, after Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on several occasions expressed concern over the forced labor of Indonesians on Chinese fishing vessels, following a viral video showing the working conditions on one such ship that led to the death of its three Indonesian crew members.

Although the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment has said the government is drafting a national action plan on the protection of seafarers working on board merchant and fisheries’ vessels, rights groups say it should start by ratifying the ILO convention.

“By ratifying ILO C188, Indonesia could leverage its diplomacy when dealing with countries where the vessels are registered,” Afdillah said. “It would also ensure that the rights of the crew members are fulfilled so that we can put an end to fatal, forced labor at sea.”

But according to Mohammad Abdi Suhufan, the national coordinator for the group Destructive Fishing Watch, government bodies were still at odds with each other on the significance of ratifying the convention and the country must first put its own house in order to be able to pressure foreign actors.

“There has been no significant progress from the government’s response to the continued grim condition and number of victims in forced labor on board foreign fishing vessels,” Suhufan told Arab News. “The diplomatic effort with China is only a downstream measure, but the condition will not improve unless there is an upstream measure to reform the regulations in seafarers’ recruitment.”

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