For reasons that I just can’t fathom, iwi fishing quota-holders have decided to use their fishing rights, not to create 2,000 jobs for their own people, but to maximise their profits by employing slave-fishing boats. Our quotaholders are making money from slavery in our waters. The government could eliminate this odious practice. But the Nats won’t do it.
I/S at NoRightTurn takes up the story:
Last year, the Sunday Star-Times revealed that workers on foreign fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters were being treated like slaves: beaten, sexually-abused, forced to work in unsafe conditions, and (of course) underpaid by their foreign employers. The government responded by doing what it always does when it doesn’t want to do anything: launched an inquiry. That inquiry reported back last week, and the report [PDF] was released today. It recommended a full reform of the industry to eliminate slave-fishing, including extending maritime rules and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 to cover foreign charter vessels and allowing the Director-General of Fisheries to revoke a foreign charter vessel’s registration (and therefore right to fish in NZ waters) for safety reasons, with a long-term goal of requiring all foreign charter vessels to be demise chartered and fully subject to New Zealand law.
The government’s response? Do nothing. Oh, they’ll do the window-dressing – increase observers and inspections – but when it comes to the substantive reforms which might actually solve the problem, it’s a firm “we’ll think about it” (which is politician-speak for “fuck off and die”). Faced with a fundamental moral challenge which threatens our international reputation, the government is sitting on its hands and refusing to act.
To point out the obvious, slavery is illegal under New Zealand law. In keeping with international law, we recognise it as a crime against humanity. So why is the government refusing to act? A moral government would be announcing immediate steps to eliminate slavery in New Zealand waters, coupled with credible investigations into the captains, owners and charterers of these vessels, with an eye to prosecuting them for employing slaves. National won’t. And its hard to see this as anything other than protecting the interests of their rich mates, who are profiting from this revolting business.
The core problem with slave-fishing? We treat it as an employment issue, a contractual dispute, rather than a matter of fundamental human rights. When people escape from slave-boats and complain, the government focuses on getting them paid (assuming they are not simply deported), rather than treating them as victims of a serious crime. As for the police, the report [PDF] has this to say:
Although complaints to the New Zealand Police on such matters as human rights abuses of crew on board foreign flagged FCVs have been made in the past, no prosecutions or investigations have resulted. We are advised that the New Zealand Police position is that the principal issues are employment related and are more appropriately dealt with by DoL through civil remedies such as the Employment Court. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that New Zealand has limited criminal jurisdiction over foreign flagged vessels.
Here’s a hint: when people are treated like this, kept in debt-bondage, forced to work extreme hours, beaten, raped, and threatened with retribution against themselves and their families if they complain, then it is not a mere “employment issue”. It is a criminal matter. And the law is pretty clear:
Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, within or outside New Zealand… employs or uses any person as a slave [which includes those under debt-bondage – I/S], or permits any person to be so employed or used
We have universal jurisdiction on this. The only reason the police do not act is because they do not want to. They’ll use 80 armed offenders squad members and a helicopter to raid a house for the Americans to arrest someone for downloading television, but they sit on their hands when given credible complaints of a serious crime against humanity.
This has to change. Slavery is a stain on humanity, which needs to be eradicated. It should not be tolerated in New Zealand, by the police, by the government, or by anybody else. At the moment, government inaction is letting foreign charter vessels use slaves as crew. It is letting New Zealand companies profit from this. And this simply isn’t good enough. Those who keep and exploit slaves need to be prosecuted. Those who profit from slavery need to have those profits seized. If this drives part of the fishing industry bankrupt, then good. Because an “industry” founded on slavery is not one any civilised society can tolerate.