China’s distant-water fishing fleet, the world’s largest with up to 6,500 ships, operates in murky waters, both literally and figuratively. A four-year investigation by The Outlaw Ocean Project sheds light on the dark reality of forced labor in China’s seafood supply chain.
These ships, often far from shore, pose challenges for monitoring labor practices, confounding even the American government it seems.
A Sea of Shadows
Investigators closely monitored Chinese fishing ships, linking their catch to processing plants using Uyghur and North Korean labor. Bills of lading, customs information, and product packaging unveiled the supply chain, connecting the seafood to grocery stores, restaurants, and even government contracts in the United States and Europe.
In the ongoing saga of Uyghur forced labor, a longstanding yet obscured reality persists — the systematic transfer scheme. For years, the Chinese government has covertly relocated tens of thousands of Uyghurs across China, including to seafood processing plants in Shandong province on the eastern coast.
Uyghur workers find themselves loaded onto trains, planes, and buses, becoming unwitting contributors to a vast seafood supply chain. This concealed coercion not only exploits human rights but also strategically distances the laborers from international scrutiny.
Ian Urbina, writing for Politico, reports,
Seafood imports have largely slipped oversight, however, partly because the plants relying on these workers are located far from Xinjiang, a western area of the country that is among the farthest from the sea of anywhere on the planet. The Chinese government has instead forcibly relocated tens of thousands of these workers, loading them onto trains, planes and buses, and sending some to seafood processing plants in Shandong province, a fishing hub on the eastern coast. These findings were based on Outlaw Ocean Project reporting conducted using cell phone footage from factories and other places in China posted to social media, seafood company newsletters that mention meetings with government officials about solving labor shortages, state media reports, more than three dozen worker testimonies and direct surveillance of some plants.