PHOTOS: Associated Press: Modern day slaves fuel global fish mar - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

PHOTOS: Associated Press: Modern day slaves fuel global fish market

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(KHQ.COM)-  A year long investigation by the Associated Press has found a link between modern-day slaves in Indonesia and supply chains of seafood reaching the American market.  The AP talked to slaves trapped in a remote fishing villages who described working 20 to 22-hour shifts and said they were paid little or nothing.

Almost all said they were kicked, beaten, or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest. Some men were even held in cramped cages to prevent them from escaping.   Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

The small harbor is occupied by Pusaka Benjina Resources, whose office compound stands out and includes the cage with the slaves. The company is the only fishing operation on the Indonesian island village of Benjina and is listed as the owner of more than 90 trawlers. However, the captains are Thai, and the Indonesian government is reviewing information to see if the boats are really Thai-owned.

The AP interviewed slaves from a dozen small fishing vessels offloading their catch in Benjina into a single, large refrigerated cargo ship called The Silver Sea Line, which says it is only a transport ship and not involved with the fishermen.  AP reporters followed that ship, using satellite tracking over 15 days to Samut Sakhon, Thailand, where journalists watched as workers packed the seafood over four nights onto more than 150 trucks.

The AP also followed a truck to Niwat Co., where part owner Prasert Luangsomboon said the company sells to Thai Union Manufacturing. The company is a subsidiary of Thai Union Frozen products, Thailand's largest seafood corporation, with more than $3 billion in annual sales. Thai Union says its direct clients include Wal-mart, and ships thousands of cans of cat food to the U.S. every month, including household brands like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams.

One former slave said that many supervisors on ships simply tossed the bodies of dead workers into the sea to be devoured by sharks.  American retailers have disputed the claims and tried to ensure fish they sell is not tainted by slave labor.
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