Thursday, March 01, 2012
Some squid and fish sold in Hawaii are alleged to be the product of slave labor
by Larry Geller
Some fish you may buy at Costco or Sams Club or eat at P.F. Chang may have been caught with slave labor, according to an article in Business Week. The article detailed how Indonesian workers were recruited, cheated, and enslaved on fishing vessels operating off the coast of New Zealand. Some were maimed or died on board the slave ships.
The catch, the product of human slavery and death, has found its way to Honolulu, according to the story. Specifically, the author traces fish sold by Christchurch-based United Fisheries, which charters ships allegedly manned by slaves, to outlets in Hawaii:
Honolulu-based importer P&E Foods has also bought at least 48,940 lb. of squid from United since November 2010. According to P&E’s president, Stephen Lee, his company sells squid to Sam’s Club, the 47 million-member wholesaler. Lee said he was unaware of allegations of abuse on ships chartered by United, a company with which Lee has done business for “20, 30 years.” He added that he did not know whether any of P&E’s buyers required him or his suppliers to sign a code of conduct for labor practices. Carrie Foster, senior manager for corporate communications at Sam’s Club, said her company does require such signed agreements from their suppliers.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (PFCB), a Scottsdale (Ariz.)-based chain with more than 200 restaurants worldwide and more than $1.2 billion in annual revenue, purchased squid exclusively through Turner, a California-based importer. According to Import Genius and Urner Barry shipping records, Turner bought at least 568,554 lb. of squid from United since November 2010. Squid was one of the most common seafood species caught by fishermen held on the Melilla boats, according to Yusril and other crew members. Turner did not respond to requests for comment. A representative for P.F. Chang’s declined to comment on record.
Even Costco, a generally respected company, was implicated:
In our interview, Kotzikas said his company sold ling, a species of fish caught by the Melilla crews, to Costco Wholesale (COST), America’s largest wholesaler and the world’s seventh-largest retailer. As is true with many seafood exports from New Zealand, the exact quantity of United’s sales to Costco was untraceable through public shipping records. Costco representatives did not respond to requests for comment about the sales and the abuse allegations.
Until Costco responds, the best thing to do may be to ask about the fish before purchasing. If it’s from New Zealand, not only should it not be purchased, but you could post comments here about what you learn.