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Nats happy with slave-fishing

Written By: - Date published: 9:58 am, March 2nd, 2012 - 34 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags:

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.

(Emphasis added)

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.

34 comments on “Nats happy with slave-fishing”

  1. fender 1

    If Nact were honest they would admit that these slave workers are treated in a manner they want all workers in NZ to be subjected to (except the Tony Gibson class of course, but I did say workers).

  2. Tigger 2

    Further proof that iwi corporations aren’t there for iwi but themselves.

    • Ron 2.1

      No, not at all. Profits from those busineeses are used for all sorts of social development.
      However, it IS proof that iwi corporations are slaves to the same neo-liberal bullshit that drives most business in this country.

      • Populuxe1 2.1.1

        Um, no. Iwi have the same moral options as anyone else – they don’t have to use the Korean companies (in fact New Zealand ones would be preferable for obvious employment reasons). And also Indonesia is set to become a major power in our region – we should be doing more to protect their nationals (that’s my argument to the Nats – obviously NO human being should be treated like that in any case).
        And I don’t give a flying fuck if those profits are improving the lot of Maori (whose basic human rights are still protected by our laws, even if their Treaty ones are not) if it comes at the cost of the basic human rights of other people. I don’t buy into that kind of unethical “ethical” arithmetic.

  3. It’s interesting what “The Hobbit” industrial dispute and foreign fishing vessels have in common… http://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/foreign-fishing-boats-hobbits-and-the-national-guvmint/

    Whoda thunk it?

    • Populuxe1 3.1

      Let me guess… They both appear in the same post on the blog of an link-whoring armchair wonk? Whoda thunk?
      Two very very different points on an admittedly shitty moral gradient, but please don’t cheapen these people’s horrendous suffering to score easy political points against the less outrageous crimes perpetrated by the NATzis – it’s just crude.

  4. Jim in Tokyo 4

    Who listened to Eric Barratt, the CEO of Sanford, on Nine to Noon on Wednesday? Extremely weak defense in the face of some damning evidence and testimony.

    These stories of unsafe boats, abuse and slavery in the foreign charter fleet have been surfacing with regularity since the 1990s, yet in 2012 revisionist corporate PR folks have decided to go with ‘this is the first we’ve heard of any of this’!

    Also worth noting that Ben Skinner, who authored the Business Week story, obtained actual contracts spelling out the pay conditions these workers were subject to, and in the interview the Sanford guy never disputed that evidence.

    Instead, Barratt seemed to be saying that 3 months in debt bondage then $260 a month in wages was perfectly fair whilst simultaneously attempting to run down the credibility of any workers who had spoken out about abuse.


  5. McFlock 5

    Does anyone really expect the nats to change anything?
    It took them over three years to develop a green paper (let alone white paper, bill, three readings and a law, followed by implementation) to address why our kids are dying.
    They should get around to addressing slavery in, well, four-score and seven…

    • Uturn 5.1


      Headlines that may (not) surprise: “Sociopaths fail to register empathy with fishing slaves.”

      In other news, who else would think it’s a good idea for a small executive crew to corral a larger bunch of people in slave-like conditions on a relatively small boat at sea and then make them angry with beatings and sexual abuse?

      This just in…

      “Sociopaths lack of foresight ends in drownings, mutiny.”

      • Populuxe1 5.1.1

        Amateur psychological diagnoses are tedious and unbecoming. Strangely enough the NATzis can register public opprobrium as a threat to votes, which suggests the kind of social self-preservation that sociopaths are incapable of. One really shouldn’t rely on the sorts of theories one finds in women’s magazines in the supermarket.

        • felix

          “the kind of social self-preservation that sociopaths are incapable of.”

          I would’ve thought sociopathy and self-preservation went pretty much hand in hand. Of course I’m making the obvious assumption that Uturn is ascribing sociopathic qualities to the behaviour or the organisation itself, rather than suggesting that each individual member of the party is a clinically diagnosable sociopath (if such a thing exists, I only play a doctor on tv).

  6. Foreign Waka 6

    And there are people really surprised by the use of slave labor by NZ iwi? Really?

    • Populuxe1 6.1

      Despite my earlier sarcastic references to this, up yes – people are surprised. This isn’t the early 19th century. Your earnestness skates dangerously close to racism. Guess what! – they don’t do cannibalism now either.

      • Foreign Waka 6.1.1

        I am far from being racist and by got not eager at all regarding the historical hierarchy within Maoridom. You don’t know me so don’t imply these populist statements on to me.
        But if you read NZ history without these political correct blinkers on then you might just know what I refer to. Not everything that Maori do these days is acceptable, in the same way as it is true for any other people.

    • KJT 6.2

      Yes I am.
      I expected certain pakeha right wingers to be happy with slavery.
      NACT’s current attempts to reduce wages is coming close..
      I expected better from Maori.

      • Foreign Waka 6.2.1

        KJT – it seems that the expectations that are placed on Maori regarding their supposed attitude towards people and nature seem misplaced.

  7. Adele 7

    Tēnā koe, Foreign boat

    What exactly are you implying?

    • felix 7.1

      “What exactly are you implying?”

      That savage savages are savage, by the looks of it.

    • Foreign Waka 7.2

      Tēnā koe i tēnei ata, Adele

      Maori do have a history of having held slaves. These were the lowest ranked in any grouping – not surprisingly.
      “If you ask a Maori to define the classes of native social life in former times he will specify three such ranks: (1) The chief; (2) the common folk; (3) the slaves”.

      “As in many other cultures, slavery was a key element of Maori society. Mokai were usually spoils of war, condemned to lives of drudgery, danger, heavy physical work and obedience to their masters or mistresses’ whims”.

      Just a couple of sources.

      Slavery was outlawed after the signing of the treaty albeit it was not really actively sought to implement as the settlers hired the slaves for domestic work. However, some slaves were treated very badly by their Maori “owners” and this was also “overlooked” at the time. This does not mean that two wrongs make one right. Slavery is absolutely abhorrent no matter who is involved.

      • McFlock 7.2.1

        And when did Europeans and Americans end slavery?

        • Foreign Waka

          McFlock, it would take pages to respond to this question, so below is a link to give you some insight.
          The British abolished the Salve Trade by an act of parliament in 1807 followed by the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. The US ended slavery in 1865 (13th amendment to the constitution) after a terrible civil war between the north and south.

          And as I said before two wrongs don’t make one right.


      • Adele 7.2.2

        I am fully aware of taurekareka.

        Blackbirding was practised in more recent times by europeans on indigenous peoples throughout the pacific islands. Native peoples were stolen from their islands and forced to work on Australian plantations aka farms.

        The practise isn’t evidenced here so much (although it did occur) as Māori made a convenient cheap labour pool – especially since their economic / sustenance base was rapidly being depleted through increasing land alienation and the purchasing of liquour and tobacco.

        People today are more likely to be enslaved by the western tradition than Te Ao Māori. Those people on the boats were enslaved because of weak enforcement of the legislation – not because Māori leased quota to others. That’s like blaming the car owner for the accident caused by the driver of the stolen car.

        To prevent FCV fishing quota is to deny Māori and other indigenous peoples an economic base – simply make the conditions such that slavery can no longer be practised on those boats.

        • Foreign Waka

          Kia Ora Adele

          Yes, it is also buried in history that there were white slaves, i.e Arab slave trade, lakas to the African black (the vocabulary in Europe still has the word lackey referring to an servitude position) or the redlegs to the native Americans.
          So it is not necessary race based but a power issue. And with power comes money and greed.

          As for the slave labor on the chartered vessels, it is the responsibility of everyone to halt slavery.
          Circumstances of that kind are known for a while now and greed is not an issue confined to a specific people.
          Below is a University of Auckland paper that is quite interesting to read in that regard.

          No one wants to deny Maori their economic base however, there is also the question as to why the jobs are going to foreign slave labor and not to Maori as their unemployment rate is quite high. I belief this is a legitimate question. It would be of great benefit to have a structure in place where skills could be thought and employment retained as this would really ensure an economic base for the many rather then the few.

  8. Huginn 8

    Something is seriously wrong with this country when the police won’t respond to allegations of slavery because they prefer to view them as a civil law matter, yet have no problem using extraordinarily violent, armed force in response to allegations of copyright infringement.

  9. I am disgusted that anyone is involved with these foul practices. I hope any iwi or tangata whenua associated and/or implicated do anything and everything they can individually and collectively to fix this intolerable situation as soon as yesterday.

  10. Since the National Government of John Key was elected there has been a notable deterioration of National’s stance on human rights, and this is just one example. Others include its relative silence on Syria, the disregard for the abuses committed by trading partners and refusal to tell the United States point-blank that our soldiers will not participate in activities that lead to prisoners taken in conflict being tortured.

    I am concerned that in order to keep so called allies and friends happy, we are not sticking to the international standards people have come to expect of New Zealand governments. If that means letting FCV’s operating out of New Zealand ports break environmental, labour and human rights law, this Government seems quite happy to permit it.

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