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.