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Thai and Burmese fishing boat workers sit inside a cell at the compound of a fishing company in Benjina, Indonesia on Nov. The imprisoned men were considered slaves who might run away. When the U. State Department released its annual human trafficking report on Monday, it told distressingly familiar tales of forced sex work and housekeepers kept against their will.
But this year, one area got special attention: Slavery in the global supply chains of agriculture, fishing and aquaculture. The report has ranked the anti-trafficking efforts of most nations around the world since , sorting them into three tiers of compliance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. To obtain the top ranking of tier one, countries must "demonstrate appreciable progress in combating trafficking," while third-tier countries are deemed to be ignoring the problem, and thus subject to non-trade related sanctions.
In the report's early years, domestic and sex work dominated, and trafficking was attributed to " greed and moral turpitude. A mix of government officials, advocates, businesses and media had driven that shift, she says. It's a welcome change, say advocates. A worker collects oil palm fruits outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in According to the State Department's human trafficking report, some foreign migrant workers on Malaysian palm oil plantations are subjected to forced labor.
And once you start looking at the supply chains most likely to have trafficked workers, you find that a striking number are producing food. Of 48 commodities targeted for additional research because they were especially vulnerable to trafficking, 22 were food — everything from the well-publicized fish , shrimp, cocoa and palm oil industries, to crops like wheat and corn.
Farms and fishing boats have long been some the world's least-regulated workplaces, says Laura Germino, who coordinates the anti-slavery campaign of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. The CIW first gained national recognition for uncovering modern slavery in the tomato fields of Florida and is highlighted in the report.