Seafood is one of the most highly profitable and successful globally traded food commodities. It is also a trade with high costs and risks. Journalists and human rights organisations have increasingly reported on the trafficking, forced labour and even murder of fishers in the Asia-Pacific, a leading source region for seafood consumed in the US, EU and Japan. To date, studies have primarily been conducted on the Thai or Taiwanese industries. This article represents the first study to conduct a comprehensive review of employment practices within the Indonesian export fishing industry, the world’s largest exporter of tuna products. In contrast to the Thai and Taiwanese fishing industries which engage primarily migrant fishers, fishers in Indonesia are Indonesian nationals, although many are internal migrants. We make two arguments. Firstly that some of the same risks of forced labour – in hiring and employment practices – exist even where the workforce are domestic rather than international migrants. Secondly, our research identified that informal employment relations inherent in small-scale traditional fishing have been co-opted by business as a means of reducing labour costs while maximising their profits. Our research has implications for companies sourcing from Indonesia as well governments of import companies. In particular, we argue that a narrow focus on modern slavery risks inadequate or even counterproductive policy responses.
- Fishing, seafood, supply chains, Indonesia, fishers, recruitment, recruiter, broker