A two-year global Greenpeace investigation led by a Kiwi has uncovered rampant abuse of human rights, trafficking, slavery and murder on tuna fishing vessels around the world.
Lead investigator Tim McKinnel, who was responsible for securing the freedom of wrongfully convicted and sentenced Teina Pora, said of all the disgusting things he's seen, nothing compares to the scale of misery he witnessed on these vessels.
"The living conditions these, mostly men live on, are outrageous," he told 1 NEWS.
"They're often cockroach-ridden, there are no toilets, the crew aren't able to shower, they're sleeping on top of each other and often these vessels haven't been serviced or maintained for years, if not decades, so if you throw that in with the oceans and fish and everything that goes with that… it's pretty filthy," he said.
Mr McKinnel said Greenpeace teams from New Zealand and East Asia witnessed modern-day slavery in the form of cases of abuse, rape, starvation and death on board high-sea vessels in West Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
One of the report's investigations includes evidence of abuse in the lead up to the death of an Indonesian fisherman, who died four months after starting work on a Taiwanese vessel, Greenpeace stated in a press release. Data shows the ship continued operating for days after he died.
The report also includes interviews with six convicted crew members about the murder of a captain of a Vanuatu-flagged, Taiwanese-owned vessel in 2016, the press release stated.
Investigators heard how for months before the murder, crew were frequently forced to work 20 hour days for seven days a week, faced physical and verbal abuse, along with a lack of food and sleep, discrimination and feared for their lives.
Mr McKinnel says a 2015 yellow-card warning from the European Union to Taiwan for not cooperating to combat illegal practices, as well as the United States' Trafficking in Persons report of Taiwan as a Tier One country has not led to meaningful action from Taiwan.
The two-year investigation found human trafficking and even murder is occurring on the high seas.
Source: 1 NEWS
"We would argue that what we’ve seen over the last few years in terms of the conditions and the trafficking that exists in that industry that Taiwan should be downgraded to Tier Two at least," Mr McKinnel said.
"We're hopeful that our report will lead to some positive change, whether that is people being convicted or whether that is legislative change in Taiwan or New Zealand for example.
New Zealand can't trust that they’re not eating slave-tainted tuna
The report says the key markets for tuna from Taiwan is Europe, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Japan, Korea, Thailand and New Zealand.
Mr McKinnel says reviewing the supply chains show it is "almost certain" that New Zealanders are consuming slave-tainted tuna in sushi shops, restaurants, at home and purchasing it for pets.
"There are real issues in the seafood supply chains, particularly when we’re sourcing seafood from international companies," he said.
Greenpeace is calling for more transparency from the industry and action from the Government.
"There was previously a Bill in 2015 that set about attempting to prohibit slave-tainted products coming into New Zealand, that was opposed by the National government."
He said the current Government should look closely in this area and reintroduce the Bill into law.
"They've previously sponsored that Bill, they could do it now," he said.
Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Ian Lees-Galloway said he recently made a commitment for Government, businesses and workers to work together on combatting modern slavery and human trafficking with practical steps at a forum hosted by Icebreaker’s Rob Fyfe.
He said business have the power to influence change "within supply chains, to drive up standards, and remove the profitability of trafficking and modern slavery."
"This year the Government will launch an updated National Plan of Action to combat human trafficking, forced labour and slavery," he said in a statement.
"The main thing for the New Zealand public is to remain vigilant and aware of these insidious practices. Part of that is supporting the charities that help expose human trafficking and support victims, and another way is to vote with your wallet," he said.
A Sealord spokesperson said the welfare of workers is a top priority for the company and that it has full confidence its supply chain for tuna involves registered and legal vessels.
"We have 100 per cent observer status on the vessels that we would source tuna from and those observers would be observing that," the spokesperson said.
Seafood New Zealand has condemned the inhumane actions in the report, with chief executive Tim Pankhurst saying in a statement the reports of slave ships are "shocking".
"The New Zealand seafood industry encourages all possible means being employed to eradicate unsafe and exploitative fisheries practises in international waters," he said.
The industry group is also calling for consumer vigilance when it comes to the origin of tuna, as well as any other fish being purchased.
"It is very important to be aware that this is not behaviour that is happening in the New Zealand fleet, nor in New Zealand waters," Mr Pankhurst said.
A statement from Seafood New Zealand said 97 per cent of the country's commercial catch is internationally and independently certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Legislation introduced in 2016 means no foreign vessel can fish in New Zealand waters unless it is operating under the New Zealand flag.
Around 10 foreign owned vessels are currently fishing in the country’s waters.