A coordinated approach between Church and relevant public and private agencies is needed to close the loopholes that allow forced labour to occur in the maritime and fisheries sectors - a Vatican conference has heard.
"There is a need for a multi-stakeholder alliance involving all parties - the Church working in partnership with the relevant agencies - to close the gaps that exist," says Mi Zhou, Manager of International Labour Organization South East Asia Fisheries Project.
Zhou said there are inherent problems in the recruitment and placement process of fishers in some countries which might lead to them being trafficked and enslaved.
She said a common practice in some parts of the world is where bad players in the industry categorise fishers as 'partners' or 'family' who get a "share of the catch" - thus making it easier to bypass regulatory standards on decent wages and treatment of fishers.
Another challenge was the jurisdictional complexities associated with international fishing; meaning bad players have the tendency to pass the buck when abuses are uncovered.
Zhou made these observations in a presentation on Human Trafficking in the Context of Slave Labour at the Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking organised by the Vatican's Migrant and Refugees department in Rome from April 9 to 11.
The session was chaired by Apostleship of the Sea (Stella Maris) Great Britain National Director Martin Foley.
Foley said AoS is committed to fighting trafficking in the fishing industry and is actively involved in assisting fishers who are in danger of being exploited and abused by unscrupulous owners by providing spiritual and material assistance to the fishers and their families.
Another speaker at the session, Jessica Sparks, Rights Lab Research Fellow in Antislavery and Ecosystems at Nottingham University conducted a preliminary study called Social Conflict on the Seas: Links between Overfishing-Induced Marine Fish Stock Declines and Forced Labor Slavery last year.
The study found that 46 percent of all countries with a coastline showed evidence of modern slavery in their marine capture fisheries sector.
However, Sparks said there are great examples where partnerships between port chaplains of the Apostleship of the Sea and organisations such as the International Transport Workers Federation in the United Kingdom have resulted in highlighting the problem of exploited fishers and offering vital care and support to victims.
Last November, the Vatican's Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson said the Church cannot remain silent to labour and human rights abuses in the fishing industry.
In a message during a World Fisheries Day panel discussion, he said fishers are "crying out for help and, as Church, we cannot shut our ears and we cannot remain silent."
In Great Britain and around the world, Apostleship of the Sea works with the Santa Marta Group to educate and inform its global network of AoS chaplains and volunteers, as well as port officials and police about the scourge of slavery at sea and what can be done to protect and support fishermen and seafarers.
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