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In March of 2015, the Associated Press (AP) published AP Investigation: Slaves May Have Caught the Fish You Bought. It was the first in a series of articles the AP would publish over the next eighteen months detailing the squalor and oppression faced daily by thousands of Southeast Asian fishermen. What caught readers’ attention, however, was not merely the unmasking of abuse. It was the reference to Safeway. It was the reference to Wal-Mart. It was the reference to Fancy Feast. It was the allegation that American consumers were complicit in the exploitation of foreign workers, and it was the knowledge that there were photographs to prove it.
To date, the AP’s investigative team has helped free more than 2000 slaves in Southeast Asian fisheries, and has even uncovered similar abuse on American-flagged vessels. Nevertheless, it is evident that the AP’s reporting has only scratched the surface of a deeply entrenched issue. While it is difficult to quantify the scale of labor abuse in fisheries, scholars and agencies agree that fishing industry workers comprise a substantial portion of the 20.9 million people trapped in forced labor worldwide.