A large slavery network in the Southeast Asian fishing industry was uncovered last year. Global supermarkets and suppliers were shown to be violating laws by indirectly supporting this network. Consumers started to wonder if the shrimp they were eating had been ethically caught or harvested through oppression. Ultimately, the focused attention led to the liberation of more than 2,000 slaves who had been held in miserable conditions and the prosecution of criminals.

This series of events wasn’t the culmination of a law enforcement sting, and it didn’t come about because governments launched human rights investigations.

It all happened because a team of journalists from the Associated Press were out reporting.

Journalism is often cast in dismissive terms, as a profession that distorts reality by obsessing over horse race politics and lurid violence. But the vast majority of journalists are dedicated to clearly describing the world and bringing illuminating information to their audiences.

Most journalism is propelled by 5 common principles: truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability.

The AP recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, and they abided by these principles throughout their investigation in Southeast Asia.  

A team of reporters spent 18 months tracking down and uncovering every aspect of a modern slave trade story that traversed multiple countries.

Reporters first came across slaves who “ lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.”

The team interviewed more than 40 current and former slaves and tracked the journey of a large shipment of slave-caught seafood to Thailand’s largest fish market, where it became clear that this seafood ended up purchased by major global corporations.

Slaves were not only on boats, hauling fish in nets and spending their night hunched in squalid cages. They were also working 16-hour shifts in processing factories.

As the AP vividly describes:

“Every morning at 2 a.m., they heard a kick on the door and a threat: Get up or get beaten. For the next 16 hours, No. 31 and his wife stood in the factory that owned them with their aching hands in ice water. They ripped the guts, heads, tails and shells off shrimp bound for overseas markets, including grocery stores and all-you-can-eat buffets across the United States.”

So families were paying $10 USD fees to scarf down handfuls of shrimp that had been caught and processed by slaves and purchased by American companies in inexpensive bulk.

This awful contrast had the intended effect.

The AP’s series of pieces spurred the release of more than 2,000 slaves over 6 months, boycotts on slave caught fish, promises from various companies to rigorously avoid this kind of fish and efforts by governments to better monitor the situation.

The AP team reminded the world that slavery exists and that many people indirectly support slavery through their purchases. By insisting that the global supply chain was complicit, the AP was able to generate enough outrage and corporate pressure to end part of this atrocity.

In the months ahead, more slaves who had been held in terrible situations will be released. These former slaves will once again be able to see their families. They’ll once again live a life with dignity and freedom.

This is a profoundly important step in the global fight to end poverty and injustice. Slavery hurts everyone by empowering those with evil intentions, stripping people of dignity and increasing the amount of suffering in the world, distorting economies, driving down wages for employed workers and various other consequences.

The AP team worked hard and courageously for this victory. Congratulations for this well-deserved recognition.


Demand Equity

AP wins Pulitzer for efforts to release thousands of slaves

By Joe McCarthy