FCF-linked vessels outed by US government as likely using forced labor

Published on
August 18, 2020

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Trade has placed a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on all seafood harvested by the Taiwanese-owned, Vanuatu-flagged fishing vessel Da Wang “due to reasonable suspicion of forced labor on the vessel.”

The WRO will require detention of seafood harvested by the Da Wang at all U.S. ports of entry. Importers of any detained shipments “will have an opportunity to export their shipments or submit proof to CBP that the merchandise was not produced with forced labor,” according to a CBP press release.

“CBP will continue to enforce the U.S. prohibition of imports produced with forced labor. The agency strongly encourages the trade community to closely monitor all parts of their supply chains to ensure fair business and labor practices,” CBP Office of Trade Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith said. “We cannot achieve our goal of creating and maintaining an ethical and humane U.S. supply chain without the support of our industry partners, but there will be consequences for those who fail to meet government standards.”

In May, a WRO was also issued to the Taiwanese-flagged Yu Long 2, and in February, the Taiwan-flagged Tunago 61 was given a WRO, though it was revoked on 31 March by the CBP after it obtained evidence tuna produced by the vessel was not caught using forced labor conditions. Two of the three vessels are suppliers to FCF Co, which purchased Bumble Bee Foods in January 2020.

CBP receives allegations of forced labor from a variety of sources, including the public via the agency’s e-Allegations Online Trade Violation Reporting System. In the case of the Da Wang WRO, environmental activist group Greenpeace claimed it had submitted evidence to the CBP regarding alleged use of forced labor onboard the vessel.

“The WRO on Da Wang was triggered in part by the Greenpeace Southeast Asia (GPSEA) report, ‘Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas,’” the group said in a press release.

Relying on interviews, documents, and other information, the report painted a picture of Indonesian, Filipino, and other Southeast Asian migrant fishermen working aboard distant-water vessels owned by foreign countries and suffering from mistreatment, human rights abuses, and forced labor.

“These WROs demonstrate that forced labor in the Taiwanese distant-water fishing fleet is systemic and remains a significant problem that must be urgently addressed by all stakeholders, especially governments, and the companies that source from the Taiwanese fleet,” Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace U.S.A. Senior Oceans Adviser Andy Shen said “bold, transformative changes are needed now to prevent future penalties that further disrupt the supply of tuna to U.S. retailers and result in significant financial loss to all companies connected to the Taiwanese distant-water fishing industry.” 

“Today’s Withhold Release Order makes it clear to U.S. buyers of Bumble Bee- or FCF -supplied tuna that there are legal, financial, and reputational risks to sourcing from companies that fail to uphold their human rights responsibilities to fishers,” he said. “The days of turning a blind eye are over. U.S. companies must address forced labor risks in their seafood supply chain by adopting and implementing Greenpeace’s recommended measures to prevent forced labor in the tuna industry, including conducting human rights due diligence down to the vessel level. Companies must also publicly disclose the identities and key details of all their suppliers, including any human rights violations and remedies provided to victims.”

Photo courtesy of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission

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