Combatting exploitation in Indonesia’s fisheries

In an effort to tackle long-standing issues of forced labour and human trafficking in the Indonesian fisheries sector, UnionAID in New Zealand, has partnered with Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia, for a crucial project in the Aru Islands Regency.

Fisheries workers in Indonesia face a multitude of serious issues. A lack of awareness of workers’ rights, insufficient government resources, and a lack of transparency within the fishing industry, form the backdrop against which exploitation thrives.

The Aru Islands are known for labour rights violations among domestic fishery vessel workers. Rich in fish stocks, vessels from Java travel for a month to the Arafura Sea. They stop at Dobo Fishery Port in the Aru Islands to transfer their catch to collecting vessels. During this process, workers who are facing intimidation and forced labour often escape, seeking employment in Dobo or returning home.

“The fishery vessel workers do not have anything when they flee the vessel; no family, no friends, sometimes they do not even have footwear to walk the streets of Dobo, and they are without spare clothes. If they are lucky, they could be rescued by locals temporarily and get a job. Otherwise, they will find themselves sleeping in the mosque or even in the street.” said Miftachul Choir, DFW’s Human Rights Manager.

Beyond the Aru Islands, a recent DFW investigation at the Nizam Zachman Ocean Fishing Port (PPS) in Jakarta, exposed labour rights violations in recruitment, work processes, and post-employment conditions. DFW is calling for the Indonesian government to ratify and implement regulations from ILO Convention No. 188, which sets out binding requirements to address the main issues concerning work on board fishing vessels.

The UnionAID-DFW project will set up an early detection system aimed at identifying and addressing instances of forced labour and human trafficking. This system will monitor working conditions and recruitment practices, helping to prevent exploitation. The project also focuses on raising awareness of workers’ rights, setting up victim support systems, and collaborating with local authorities to provide necessary resources. These efforts are crucial in a sector where workers are on casual short-term contracts, making it difficult to form unions and collectively advocate for their rights and better working conditions.

DFW and UnionAID are not just addressing immediate challenges but are also committed to creating long-term improvements in the sector. With DFW’s experience in sustainable fisheries and poverty reduction and UnionAID’s focus on building unions and advocating for workers’ rights, the partnership aims to make a lasting impact.

Sarah King, Communications and Operations Manager at UnionAID, said: "This is an important project, not only to improve the current conditions in the Aru Islands, but could serve as a model for safer and more equitable working environments for fisheries workers throughout the region.”