#Mauritania: On The Edge

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Update of an article which originally appeared in Zenith Online in April 2012, when it seemed that all Mauritania’s sources of discontent were erupting at once. But protests are nothing new in this land where a coup has been the answer to every political ill, whether real or imagined, for decades.

Operating in a Constitutional Vacuum

General Aziz

The coup in which the Aziz regime seized power in 2008 created a wave of protest, which continued despite General Aziz switching to civilian garb and claiming a democratic victory in the 2009 presidential election. After a year in which they failed to complete national registration, failed to maintain dialogue with the opposition, and postponed legislative, parliamentary and municipal elections indefinitely, the Aziz government is no longer teetering on the brink of legitimacy: it fell off that precipice back in November 2011 when the mandate of the government expired. The only legally elected official in Mauritania is now the president, Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz. Many of those who accused the junta of merely paying lip-service to democracy in order to add a veneer of respectability and secure regional and international acceptance (and funding) are now feeling fully vindicated.

Anti-government protests which resurfaced last year gradually increased since February 2012 to become a daily occurrence in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou and other towns further afield. Incidents of strikes have also increased, with actions by fishermen, mining workers, teachers, college professors and students. Even a group of administrators for the national registration programme threatened a strike over pay and conditions. Throughout all this, the junta continues to impose constitutional and legislative changes, and to enter into financial and trade agreements with foreign investors, lenders, and trade partners.

Neighbourhood Watch

Mauritania map

Geographically, Mauritania is a foreign invention. The uncomfortably angular shape of Mauritania’s north eastern borders were decided long ago by colonial powers in London and Paris. There are few links with London now, although last October, William Hague did become the first the British Foreign Secretary to visit. But deep ties with France persist, and many are watching to see how Hollande’s victory in the French presidential election will impact the country. The neighbours who inhabit the other side of those awkward borders are also subject to the vagaries of Mauritania’s fickle nature. Western Sahara lost it’s southern region to Morocco when Mauritania decided to withdraw from occupation after being outclassed by the POLISARIO rebel force in 1979. This land that only time remembers, and which the world tries to ignore, now presses in awkward silence against the north-western border, a permanent reminder of Mauritania’s humiliating defeat, tribal hegemony and political naivety.

During the relatively brief 1989 conflict with Senegal, tens of thousands were forcibly expelled or repatriated between the two countries. The enmity was eventually resolved, but there is no great bond between them, as the April2012 crackdown on Senegalese workers and residents in Nouadhibou demonstrates. While Mauritania worked with the UN HCR to repatriate some of the Senegal refugees, a process which was declared complete only in March 2012, those in Mali were never even counted. In a peculiarly schizophrenic episode, tens of thousands of refugees displaced by the unrest in Mali are now being sheltered in Mauritania. In Mali’s case, there is an almost total lack of respect for its sovereignty: Mauritania maintains close associations with the MNLA (Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad) and conducts frequent military sorties supposedly targeting AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) – even if those targets turn out to be civilians. With the introduction in May 2012 of a new residency tax for all foreign nationals of 30,000 MRO per person, including children, Mauritania now appears to be in breach of two clauses of its 1963 accord with Mali, which prohibits both taxation on citizens and uninvited military presence.

As a member of the Arab League, Mauritania has always had close relations with the Gulf States, although we are encouraged by unreliable media sources to consider some, for example Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, as being closer than others. Once deeply indebted to Muammar Gaddafi’s patronage, Mauritania was an unexpected choice as chair of the African Union’s special committee on Libya during the 2011 uprising. It was also one of the last of the Arab states to officially recognize the National Transitional Council, and entertained visitors from both sides during last year’s conflict.  This year finds Mauritania playing host to former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, after an improbable arrest (which France claimed to have a hand with) and showing no signs of releasing him from “detention” any time soon.

Islamic in Moderation

One of only four Islamic Republics in the world, Mauritania might be expected to enjoy close relations with Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but this is not the case. Relations with Iran did seem warm last September, when they received Ahmadinejad and his entourage on the way to and from the UN General Assembly in New York, then seemed to have cooled by March, when Mauritania voted in favour of extending the UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur’s mandate. But by early April, Iran had “repatriated” former Al Qaeda strategist Mahfouz Ould al Walid aka Abu Hafs al Mauritani, who arrived to join his family, already returned from Iran. For company, they have one of Osama bin Laden’s former wives and her children, while Mali is fast becoming the Al Qaeda time-share capital of Africa.

Mauritania is reportedly keeping al Walid in detention and there are unconfirmed reports that he has refused visits and food in protest at being pressured to meet with delegations from “foreign powers”. Such reports have all the hallmarks of a smokescreen intended to dampen observers’ inclinations to link his presence in Mauritania with reports of increasing AQIM activity in the Sahel, or indeed with the recent spate of allegedly successful US drone attacks on Al Qaeda leadership figures. By all accounts, Mauritania is firmly against terrorism, and its preferred brand of moderate Islam is jihad-free. In fact the government has carved out a cosy niche as a player in the global war on terror, with its lucrative funding opportunities. This might get a boost due to the level of hysteria about Mali. For development funding, the EU remains an important source of funds and is joined by Japan, Spain, China and others. All of these donors surely know that their funds are being sieved through a mesh of corruption but they seem unperturbed.

Not Just Desert

Harsh Desert Conditions

Despite it’s massive land area of over 1 million km2, the majority of Mauritania’s population – which is roughly the same as that of Berlin – is concentrated in the capital Nouakchott, and the port of Nouadhibou. These cities lie on the West coast where the Sahara desert meets Mauritania’s vast fishing grounds in the Atlantic ocean. While the sea provides a wealth of fish, not much reaches land: most of it is destined for export after processing in huge factory ships. The European Union recently ordered its fleet to cease fishing in the waters, as the quota has been reached and their agreement expires in July 2012. Meanwhile, China has moved in as another pelagic fishing partner in a deal that was denounced as unfavourable and suspect.

The vast desert, though inhospitable, is also rich in natural resources such as iron, copper, gold and gypsum. One of the major criticisms levelled at the government concerns mining rights sold to foreign companies, such as Canada’s Kinross, on terms which fail to provide a reasonable return. Mining workers appear to be trapped in a cycle of industrial action and broken or half-kept promises, although an unprecedented and costly 5-day strike by 1500 Kinross workers in early June appears to have improved their situation.

Decades of desertification and increasing frequency of severe drought have pushed people from a life of humble self-sufficiency as smallholders in rural villages to the cities. It’s a race for survival, with the edge of Africa as the finishing line. But there are few opportunities for skilled workers or university graduates in the cities, fewer still for semi-nomadic herdsmen and farmers with only a rudimentary education. The towns were not built to cope with such dramatic increase: essential support infrastructure is lacking, and plans to create or improve it are failing to keep pace. This situation is the basis for a raft of social issues – unemployment, poverty, homelessness, healthcare, education, social welfare – a constant source of domestic tension. Another source of social friction is racial discrimination, inescapable in a country with such a mixture of “white” and “black” Moors as well as black Africans and all possible variants. Racial division is a “hot button” and the regime is highly skilled at applying pressure whenever it suits.

Sowing Division, Reaping Chaos

In April 2011, when the new population census and biometric registration programme was launched, there was an outcry over allegations of racial prejudice against citizens of black African heredity.  This year, it was the turn of slavery to grab headlines.  Recent media focus on slavery actually garnered little attention inside the country until a Saudi cleric suggested Muslims could seek atonement by purchasing the freedom of slaves, who he said  were readily-available in Mauritania. This was followed by a comment from the cleric Cheikh Dedew, who is also the patron of the Islamist party, Tewassoul. Dedew made a statement along the lines of “slavery does not exist in Mauritania”. In turn, this provoked Biram Ould Abeid, president of anti-slavery group “IRA” to hold his own Friday prayer meeting on 27 April, and afterwards burn several volumes by Islamic scholars which he said condone slavery through Islam.

Aziz goes Trad

The response was immediate and significant, some might even say orchestrated. Angry protesters marched to the Presidential palace the next day, and president Aziz came out to meet them in full traditional dress instead of the usual couture suit, promising to defend Islam. Biram Ould Abeid and 9 of his associates were arrested that evening. Protests against Biram’s act continued for a time, with demands ranging from an apology to expulsion, and even execution for apostasy. Mauritania does include some precepts of Islamic “Sharia” law, but has not actually executed anyone for many years. Whether knowingly or not, Biram Ould Abeid’s attempt to demonstrate a link between Islam and slavery provided a golden opportunity for Aziz to stifle the slavery debate and restore his flagging reputation by championing the one thing all people in Mauritania have in common: Islam.

As the indignation began to wane, regular Saturday protests by supporters of Biram and his fellow-prisoners began, and were immediately and repeatedly repressed by police with customary violence. Biram’s wife Leyla was attacked several times, and on one occasion shot in the face with a tear gas grenade. On 9 June 2012, a young man – who was not part of the protest, but a shopkeeper on one of the roads where police were clashing with the unarmed protesters – died from tear gas suffocation. As has been the case with previous incidents, officials denied any wrongdoing and claimed the youth died from a pre-existing medical complaint. Biram has in fact published an apology but he and six others, including a journalist, remain in custody.

Now Mauritania appears to be entering a new phase in its ever-evolving struggle. Last week there was a visit from the UN representative for West Africa, fresh from talks with ECOWAS* about the situation in Mali. He met with leaders of the the political opposition coalition for about half an hour before meeting with Aziz. Former transitional leader Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, a cousin of Aziz, provided some distraction by allowing himself to be quoted making outlandish and insulting comments about the 1989 atrocities. This got the abolitionists and anti-racists nicely worked up, while Massoud Ould Belkhair, leader of the more compliant opposition, worked on COD leaders by making overtures about dialogue. For the hat-trick, the failed group which was created last year to call for a national unity government was brought out of cold storage.

Former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani

In the background, the illegal Aziz government pressed on with its agenda. Unqualified diplomats have been dispatched to various international locations. Unqualified candidates have been assigned to a new Electoral Commission, and the former Chief Justice Ould Ghilani was removed from his post and replaced by a very junior and inexperienced jurist. Legislative elections are still not scheduled, but the country’s jurists are forming a union of sorts, just to keep themselves occupied. Next for the arbitrary chop could be the Chief of the Bar Association, Ould Boubehna, who is talking far too much sense these days, echoing constitutional law expert Lo Gormo’s 3 March pronouncement on the government’s  lack of legitimacy.

Eventually, all these issues must be resolved. It is not possible to continue like this indefinitely. The lack of comment or concern over this constitutional imbroglio from international partners, and their willingness to enter into legal agreements, provide aid, and accept and extend invitations to a government which has remained in power through a “coup by default” is at best puzzling and at worst hypocritical.

*Mauritania is not a member of ECOWAS.

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Fish For Dinner? The Fruits of Slave Labor

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

Yusril is 28, with brooding looks and a swagger that belies his slight frame. (Yusril asked that his real name not be used out of concern for his safety.) He was desperate for the promised monthly salary of $260, plus bonuses, for unloading fish. His wife was eight months pregnant, and he had put his name on a waiting list for the job nine months earlier. After taking a daylong bus ride to Jakarta, he had given the agent a $225 fee he borrowed from his brother-in-law, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 27 edition. The agent rushed him through signing the contracts, at least one of which was in English, which Yusril does not read.

The terms of the first contract, the “real” one, would later haunt him. In it, IMS spelled out terms with no rights. In addition to the agent’s commission, Yusril would surrender 30 percent of his salary, which IMS would hold unless the work was completed. He would be paid nothing for the first three months, and if the job were not finished to the fishing company’s satisfaction, Yusril would be sent home and charged more than $1,000 for the airfare. The meaning of “satisfactory” was left vague. The contract said only that Yusril would have to work whatever hours the boat operators demanded.

Locked In

The last line of the contract, in bold, warned that Yusril’s family would owe nearly $3,500 if he were to run away from the ship. The amount was greater than his net worth, and he had earlier submitted title to his land as collateral for that bond. Additionally, he had provided IMS with the names and addresses of his family members. He was locked in.

What followed, according to Yusril and several shipmates who corroborated his story, was an eight-month ordeal aboard the Melilla 203, during which Indonesian fishermen were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by the ship’s operators. Their overlords told them not to complain or fight back, or they would be sent home, where the agents would take their due. Yusril and 23 others walked off in protest when the trawler docked in Lyttelton, New Zealand. The men have seen little if any of what they say they are owed. Such coerced labor is modern-day slavery, as the United Nations defines the crime. (The South Korean owners of the Melilla ships did not respond to requests for comment.)

Debt Bondage

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.

Yusril’s story and that of nearly two dozen other survivors of abuse reveal how the $85 billion global fishing industry profits from the labor of people forced to work for little or no pay, often under the threat of violence. Although many U.S. seafood companies and retailers claim not to do business with suppliers who exploit their workers, the truth is far murkier.

Musty Quarters

Hours after Yusril arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, the Melilla 203 officers put him to work unloading squid on the 193- foot, 26-year-old trawler. The ship was in bad shape, and the quarters were musty, as the vessel had no functioning dryer for crew linens or work clothes. Yet the conditions seemed comparatively decent to Yusril.

Two years earlier he had worked on the Dong Won 519, operating under the auspices of Sanford Ltd., a 130-year-old, $383 million New Zealand company. On that boat, Yusril says the officers hit him in the face with fish and the boatswain repeatedly kicked him in the back for using gloves when he was sewing the trawl nets in cold weather. Most unnervingly, the second officer would crawl into the bunk of Yusril’s friend at night and attempt to rape him. When asked for comment, Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt said Sanford’s observers, which the company placed on all their foreign-chartered vessels (FCVs), reported that the ships “don’t have any issues with labor abuse.”

Conditions Worsen

When the Melilla 203 set sail for the deep waters of the Southern Ocean, conditions worsened, according to the accounts of Yusril and a dozen other crew members. The ship trawled for up to two months at a time, between 12 and 200 miles offshore. The boatswain would grab crew members’ genitals as they worked or slept. When the captain of the ship drank, he molested some of the crew, kicking those who resisted. As nets hauled in the catch — squid, ling, hoki, hake, grouper, southern blue whiting, jack mackerel, and barracuda — the officers shouted orders from the bridge. They often compelled the Indonesians to work without proper safety equipment for up to 30 hours, swearing at them if they so much as asked for coffee or a bathroom break. Even when fishermen were not hauling catches, 16-hour workdays were standard.

Fatigue

The resulting fatigue meant accidents, which could bring dismemberment in the cramped below-deck factory where the fish were headed and gutted by hand, then passed along conveyor belts to be frozen. Over the past decade at least two crew members of the Melilla ships have died, according to local newspaper accounts and reports by Maritime New Zealand, a government regulatory body. Dozens of Melilla crew members suffered injuries, some crippling.

When Ruslan, 36, a friend of Yusril’s on the 203, snapped two bones in his left hand in a winch, it took three weeks before he was allowed to go to a hospital. The morning after his discharge he was ordered back to work but could not carry out his duties. The company removed him before any follow-up medical appointments. “I was a slave, but then I became useless to the Koreans, so they sent me home with nothing,” he says.

Today, back in his home village in Central Java, Ruslan has a deformed hand. While IMS, the recruiting agency, finally paid him $335 for three months of work, it has blacklisted him, according to Ruslan, because he spoke to investigators, and it has refused to help with medical bills.

Ecological Infractions

During the last decade, New Zealand authorities repeatedly fined or seized the Melilla ships for ecological infractions, such as a 2005 oil discharge in Lyttelton (LPC) Harbor, which the country monitored by satellite and occasional inspections by Ministry of Fisheries observers. Crimes against humanity were secondary. Scott Gallacher, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (which merged with the Ministry of Fisheries in July), explained that “observers are not formally tasked” with assisting abused crew, though they may report abuses to the Department of Labour. Yet Yusril said that when he once whispered a plea for help, an observer expressed sympathy but said it was “not my job.”

New Zealand authorities had plenty of prior evidence of deplorable working conditions on foreign vessels like the Melilla. On Aug. 18, 2010, in calm seas, a Korean-flagged trawler called the Oyang 70 sank, killing six. Survivors told the crew of the rescuing vessel their stories of being trafficked. A report by Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, two researchers at the University of Auckland Business School, and Daren Coulston, a mariner, uncovered numerous cases of abuse and coercion among the 2,000 fishermen on New Zealand’s 27 FCVs.

New Zealand Inquiry

The report prompted the government to launch a joint inquiry. The researchers gathered testimony from New Zealand observers who saw abuses being committed even after they had boarded ships. “Korean officers are vicious bastards,” one observer said, as quoted in the report. The source said a factory manager “rapped” a 12-kilogram (26 pounds) stainless steel pan over a crew member’s head, splitting the top of it, with blood “pissing out everywhere.” The observer said he gave the Indonesian fisherman 26 stitches.

After eight months on the Melilla 203, Yusril and 23 other crew members protested their treatment and pay to the captain. The move came after a Department of Labour investigator visited the ship in November 2011, when it was docked in Lyttelton. The official gave Yusril a fact sheet stipulating that crew members were entitled to minimum standards of treatment under New Zealand law, including pay of at least $12 per hour. When deductions, agency fees, and a manipulated exchange rate were subtracted, the fishermen were averaging around $1 per hour.

Retribution Threats

The captain dismissed the document and threatened to send them home to face retribution from the recruiting agency. Believing that the New Zealand government would protect them from such a fate, Yusril and all but four of the Indonesian crew walked off the boat and sought refuge in Lyttelton Union Parish Church. Aided by two local pro bono lawyers, they decried months of flagrant human rights abuses and demanded their unpaid wages under New Zealand’s Admiralty Act.

Ten miles from Lyttelton, in neighboring Christchurch, stands the headquarters of United Fisheries, the company that exclusively purchased the fish that Yusril and his mates caught. The building features gleaming Doric columns topped with friezes of chariot races. It was designed to resemble the temples to Aphrodite in Cyprus, the homeland of United founder Kypros Kotzikas.

‘High Standard’

The patriarch started in New Zealand with a small fish-and- chip restaurant. Some 40 years later, his son, Andre, 41, runs a company that had some $66 million in revenue last year. Although three Melilla crew members, citing abuse, had run away nine days before I spoke with Kotzikas, he told me he had heard of no complaints from crew on board the ships, and he had personally boarded the vessels to ensure that the conditions “are of very high standard.”

“I don’t think that claims of slavery or mistreatment can be attached to foreign charter vessels that are operating here in New Zealand,” he said. “Not for responsible operators.”

In an e-mail, Peter Elms, a fraud and compliance manager with Immigration New Zealand, cited a police assessment that found that complaints from crews amounted to nothing more than disputes over work conditions, alleged minor assaults, intimidation, workplace bullying and non-payment of wages. Elms said his department had two auditors who visited each vessel every two or three years, and they had found nothing rising to the level of human trafficking, a crime punishable in New Zealand by up to 20 years in prison.

‘Beautiful Stuff’

Kotzikas said that while New Zealand’s labor laws are “a thousand pages of, you know, beautiful stuff,” he believed they did not necessarily apply beyond New Zealand’s 12-mile territorial radius.

Half of United Fisheries’ annual revenue is generated outside New Zealand, spread across five continents. In the U.S., which imports an estimated $14.7 billion worth of fish annually, regulators are beginning to pay attention to the conditions under which that food is caught.

The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, as of Jan. 1, requires all retailers with more than $100 million in global sales to publicly disclose their efforts to monitor and combat slavery in their supply chains. The law covers some 3,200 corporations that do business in the state, including several that trade in seafood.

Kotzikas said his company sold ling, a species of fish which is also caught by the Melilla crews, to Costco Wholesale Corp, America’s largest wholesaler and the world’s seventh- largest retailer.

Risking Punishment

Another New Zealand company with ties to U.S. retailers is Sanford, the country’s second-largest seafood enterprise. On Nov. 3, I interviewed crew members of the Dong Won and Pacinui vessels, charters catching fish for Sanford, near the docks at Lyttelton. These men risked punishment by speaking out: Less than a week earlier three Pacinui crew members who had complained were sent back to Indonesia to face the recruiters.

A Dong Won deckhand said he felt like a slave as he simulated a Korean officer kicking him on the ground. Their contracts, issued by IMS and two other Indonesian agents, were nearly identical to those signed by the Melilla crew. They reported the same pay rates, false contracts, doctored time sheets and similar hours, daily abuse, intimidation, and threats to their families if they walked away.

Audits

After several desertions over the past decade, New Zealand labor audits of the Dong Won ships turned up some of the same complaints. In 2010, Sanford assured the government that it would improve oversight of foreign-chartered vessels and address allegations of abuse or wage exploitation. Barratt, Sanford’s CEO, said observers of his company’s foreign vessels did not find instances of abuse and that three deported Pacinui crew had returned voluntarily.

According to Barratt, his company exports to the U.S. through at least 16 seafood distributors, the majority through Mazzetta Co LLC, a $425 million corporation based in suburban Chicago that is the largest American importer of New Zealand fish. Mazzetta sells the same species caught on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships to outlets across the country. On Feb. 21, after the publication of an online version of this article, CEO Tom Mazzetta sent Barratt a letter demanding an investigation of labor practices on Sanford’s foreign-chartered vessels.

Sanford also sells to the $10 billion supermarket chain Whole Foods Market Inc, Barratt said. Whole Foods spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins said that “for proprietary reasons we cannot reveal who we source from for our exclusive brand products.”

‘In Compliance

Asked about allegations that FCVs in New Zealand employ slave labor, Hawkins said Whole Foods is “in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high-risk.”

Other buyers of Sanford’s fish include Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods Inc, which sells products containing the same seafood as that caught by the indentured fishermen on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships. High Liner’s customers include U.S. retailers such as Safeway Inc, America’s second-largest grocery store chain, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer. When alerted by Bloomberg Businessweek, spokespeople for both retailers pledged swift investigations. Alastair Macfarlane, a representative of New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council, declined to comment on which American companies might be buying fish from troubled vessels such as the Melilla 203.

Tainted Fish

However, an analysis of several sources of data –including New Zealand fishery species quota and FCV catch totals made available by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry –suggests roughly 40 percent of squid exported from New Zealand is caught on one of the vessels using coerced labor. Perhaps 15 percent of all New Zealand hoki exports may be slave-caught, and 8 percent of the country’s southern blue whiting catch may be tainted.

Despite the prevalence of foreign-chartered vessels, which in 2010 earned $274.6 million in export revenue and hauled in 62.3 percent of New Zealand’s deepwater catch, some companies have determined they are not worth the risk.

“The reputational damage is immeasurable,” says Andrew Talley, director of Talley’s Group, New Zealand’s third-largest fishing company, which submits to third-party audits on its labor standards, a condition of its contract to supply McDonald’s Corp with hoki for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

‘Hard-Earned’ Reputation

“New Zealand seafood enjoys a hard-earned and world- leading reputation as a responsible fisheries manager, with a product range and quality to match,” says Talley. “There is nothing responsible at all about using apparently exploitative and abusive FCVs.”

The main thoroughfare that bisects Yusril’s Central Java village feeds into a chain of divided tollways that run all the way to Jakarta. Travelers along the road quickly leave the briny air of the fishing kampungs and pass through green rice paddies dotted with water buffalo and trees bearing swollen, spiky jackfruit. Sixty years ago, Yusril’s grandfather worked that land. Today, thousands journey along the highway to seek new lives.

When I found him last December, Yusril was back in his in- laws’ modest home, tucked well off a side road. He was out of work and brainstorming ways to scratch out a living by returning to his father’s trade, farming. IMS, the recruiting agency in Jakarta, had blacklisted him and was refusing to return his birth certificate, his basic safety training credentials, and his family papers. It was also withholding pay, totaling around $1,100. In total, Yusril had been paid an average of 50¢ an hour on the Melilla 203. (An IMS attorney did not respond to repeated e-mails requesting comment. When I showed up at the agency’s offices in Jakarta, a security guard escorted me out.)

Two of the 24 men who walked off the Melilla 203 returned to work on the ship rather than face deportation. The ship’s representatives flew the remaining 22 resisters back to Indonesia. When they returned to Central Java, the resisters say they were coerced by IMS into signing documents waiving their claims to redress for human rights violations in exchange for their originally stipulated payments of $500 to $1,000. Yusril was one of two who held out. On Jan. 21, when I last spoke to him, I asked why he had refused to sign the document.

“Dignity,” said Yusril, pointing to his heart.

From an article by E. Benjamin Skinner – Mar 30, 2012