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The Shame of New Zealand

For years, slaves brought from Indonesia under deceptive labor contracts have been beaten, raped and abused on fishing ships operating in New Zealand waters. Some have died. New Zealand officials have witnessed brutal attacks and inhuman exploitation, but many chose to remain silent.  It wasn’t their job.

They were there to protect the fish.

Meanwhile, the slave-caught and processed fish, sometimes literally soaked in the blood of workers who were repeatedly raped, beaten and abused by vicious Korean officers and crew, were sold on to foreign seafood companies, often in the US.  A Whole Foods spokesman showed little concern when asked about evidence that the company’s suppliers were using slave labor, according to the piece in Business Week.

When asked about the specific origins of the Whole Catch New Zealand hoki products, a Whole Foods spokesperson, Ashley Hawkins, said: “For proprietary reasons, we cannot reveal who we source from for our exclusive brand products.” “We are in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act,” Hawkins said, in response to the slave labor allegations. “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high risk.”

Pontius Pilate is believed to have said something similar while washing his hands. Other companies were significantly more active than the holier-than-thou ‘green’ retailer; McDonalds in particular seems to have made serious and successful efforts to ensure that it purchases from clean suppliers. Can you be too green to care?

The Business Week piece is a riveting piece of journalism at its best; we are particularly pleased because the author, E. Benjamin Skinner, got his professional start with Team Mead more than 12 years ago.  Since then Ben has done as much as anyone on the planet to bring the attention of modern day slaves — people who are forced to work under threat of physical violence — to the attention of readers and government officials around the world.

Ben isn’t just a journalist trying to make the world a better place. He is someone who is making a new kind of career, combining work with travel magazines, teaching, research and advocacy to support serious investigative journalism grounded in his moral vision. In this latest story, his skills as a writer and investigator are fully on display; Team Mead is proud to number somebody with Ben’s passion, talent and drive among our alums.

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  • Anthony

    In this instance “Shame of New Zealand” illustrates one of downsides of capitalist dynamic – profit motive sometime overwhelms man’s “Better Angels”….

  • Mike Anderson

    Oh noes! Wait ’til I tell my Proggy friends that I can’t go to lunch with them at P. F. Chang’s because the chain is financing major human rights violators! And then there’s Whole Foods…

  • Silverfiddle

    Anthony: Adam Smith said as much. A free marketplace filled with immoral people is a jungle.

    It’s not the capitalism, it’s the lack of morals.

  • dearieme

    Isn’t it more the same of Indonesia?

  • Corlyss

    “They were there to protect the fish.”

    Priceless put-down of the bleeding heart Kiwis willing to spend their entire national wealth and then some to save the planet and the whales and the rain forest and the tuna and the snail darter and the spotted owl and glacial ice and the polar bears and …. Bravo!

  • Walter Grumpius

    If it’s Koreans enslaving Indonesians, and a) Koreans are doing it and b) Indonesian govt sits idly by and does not protect its nationals, then…

    How on earth is it the shame of _New Zealand_?

    Oh, I forgot, only white people have moral agency, or some other leftist rubbish.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Walter Grumpius: No, the activities take place in New Zealand waters for the most part, under the inspection of New Zealand officials, and the companies operate out of New Zealand harbors under New Zealand regulations. The Koreans are greatly to blame, but the New Zealanders seem to have deliberately turned a blind eye. Pecunia non olet should be the national motto.

  • LarryD

    “I recycle, therefore I am a good person.”

    There are all to many people who think like that, that establishing green credentials absolves them of any other moral considerations.

  • J R Yankovic

    “In this instance ‘Shame of New Zealand’ illustrates one of downsides of capitalist dynamic – profit motive sometime overwhelms man’s ‘Better Angels’.”

    Amen. But whatever you do, try not to let the word get out. There’s no telling how it might derail our many utopian ambitions out there, whether to “save” the planet OR to beat it to a manageable, marketable pulp.

    Not to be a broken record. But again, it seems to me there’s no limit to what – and whom – we limitless Man-as-God visionaries are prepared to sacrifice or “write off.” And all, of course, in the noble pursuit of our megahuman (post-human?) projects. I know, sometimes ya gotta break some eggs . . .

    Really, when I think of how Wells, Shaw, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc, could have used this present generation. And even learned more than a few decent tricks themselves. Almost takes my breath away, it does.

  • Corlyss

    “I recycle, therefore I am a good person.”

    @Larry This is priceless. Can’t you cadge a Latin scholar, or at least a 1st year, to render that into Latin to match the Descarte?

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