A team of Associated Press journalists were led to a town in Southeast Asia where forced labor, slave trafficking and slavery is going strong after a year-long investigation into the fishing industry there. In Benjina, a small town in the depths of eastern Indonesia which is situated on two islands, the journalists were able to interview over 40 current as well as former slaves. Many of the slaves told the reporters that they had been forced to work on boats under dire conditions, paid nothing or very little. They described being taken onto boats for months or even years at a time under the brutal supervision of overseer captains.
Also found in Benjina were eight slaves held captive in a locked cell. The journalists were able to take video footage of the scene. In the evening, hiding in the darkness, the AP group took a small boat to come close to a trawler with slaves on board who began yelling at the journalists for help, beging them to take them home.
The journalists observed the supply chain from slave-caught fish to a refrigerated cargo ship heading for Thailand. They tracked the boat’s 15-day trip using signals sent by satellite. They met up with the vessel in Samut Sakhon, Thailand and watched as the fishy cargo was off-loaded from the boat and place into trucks during four evenings. They followed the trucks to processing plants, cold storage and the largest wholesale fish market in Thailand.
Finally the journalists established the chain from slave labor to market using US Customs documents with the names of Thai companies that sell fish to the United States. Although the food goes to other countries in Europe and Asia, the AP concentrated on the information they were able to get about specific US companies, where custom records are in the public domain.
To protect the men who were photographed, interviewed or videotaped for the story, the International Organization for Migration and Indonesian Marine Police were informed about the men. The police then took the men away from Benjina and they are now waiting for their cases to be processed. The goal is to have the men returned to their homes in Myanmar. Unfortunately there are still hundreds of other slaves still in the town and on the surrounding islands.