“Throughout the world there are many fishing fleets that have highly exploitative, slave-like conditions.
Up until now, very little has been done to address these conditions anywhere.”
Matthew Friedman, UNIAP
Slave Free Seas (SFS) is a charitable trust based in New Zealand
& supported by Human Rights at Sea
“To fight the business of modern slavery on the seas”
Slave Free Seas is a charitable trust based in New Zealand. We are the only NGO in the world with the specific focus of using the law to end human trafficking at sea. Directed at the fishermen who are least able to stand up for themselves, the work of Slave Free Seas is critical to high seas governance and a raft of related environmental issues.
We have a team of some of the world’s foremost experts on modern slavery, including international lawyers specialising in human rights and maritime law, leading academics, and a diverse group of advocates from the private sector. We use research-based legal remedies to facilitate justice for fishermen trapped in exploitative conditions around the globe.
Primarily directed at seafarers who are least able to stand up for themselves (or have a meaningful voice), SFS sees its work as critical to high seas governance and a raft of related environmental issues.
SFS has a team of some of the world’s foremost experts on modern slavery, including international lawyers specialising in human rights and maritime law, world-leading academics, and a diverse group of advocates from the private sector. We use research-based legal remedies to facilitate justice for seafarers trapped in exploitative conditions around the globe. Supported by a network of volunteers, NGOs and international organisations, SFS has the experience and global legal resources to implement jurisdiction-specific strategies to:
- Identify dirty supply chains
- Promote accountability
- Ensure that victims are provided remedies for the harms committed against them.
SFS began with the ongoing transformation of the New Zealand fishing industry. Our involvement has included legal advocacy in a variety of forums, prosecution, crew welfare, advocacy for legislative change, awareness raising, and research.
SFS has four operational areas – Research, Remedies, Relationships, and Remuneration.
Central to SFS work is a practical legal toolbox – a key and innovative resource – supported by LexisNexis, a global legal entity that offers specialised skills in this area. This toolbox distils not only the law but also protocols, pro forma documents, practical tips and procedures into a blueprint for action that will be relevant in any jurisdiction.
The SFS Toolbox can be used to address issues of perceived legal complexity, failures or shortcomings in the investigation and prosecution of sea-based exploitation, and inadequate regulation. It is best used with the support of trained legal professionals, although it will also serve as a valuable training tool for NGOs and others fighting slavery internationally.
SFS’s work is both timely and essential: The seas cover 70% of the earths surface, contain 97% of the earths water and carry 90% of the worlds trade. The United Nations estimates that globally there are 43 million commercial fishers, supporting 520 million people – 7.3% of the world’s population.
Commercial fishing operations in particular exist in an environment that is often referred to as a jurisdictional black hole of human rights – no real accountability – with those most likely to be abused, least able to have a say or stand up for themselves.
This is a group of people that has had little effective attention dedicated to them or their working conditions which are arguably the most harsh on the planet.
The failure of many flag States and the international regulatory system to adequately implement and enforce international labour standards has exposed thousands of seafarers to exploitation and abuse.
Apart from the ethical and moral dimensions, the mistreatment of crews affects the safe operation of ships and imposes costs on port and coastal States. Accidents and pollution incidents are of greater significance if crews are fatigued, malnourished and under personal or social pressure.
The underlying cause of sub-standard shipping practices is the commercial advantage – cost shifting to crew and the environment – that a ship owner can gain through avoiding international standards for safety, environment protection or labour conditions.
The abuse and suffering experienced by these seafarers is a disgrace. The evidence shows that the abuse and suffering is inextricably linked to business, science and security issues. This has direct effects on the sustainability, conservation and management of the world’s seas.
Thomas Harré is on the legal team for Slave Free Seas. Thomas is an enrolled barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand, and holds a masters in law from Canterbury University. This research investigated allegations of human trafficking for forced labour in New Zealand’s fishing industry. Thomas is particularly interested in issues of criminal justice, international law and human rights, and is passionate about using the law to protect the rights of vulnerable people.
Dr Christina Stringer
Christina is a Senior Lecturer in International Business at the University of Auckland. Her research with Glenn Simmons and Daren Coulston, Not in New Zealand Waters Surely?, exposed systematic abuse in the New Zealand fishing industry. Prior to her research into labour and human rights abused she completed a major project for the Ministry of Fisheries into the offshore processing of New Zealand caught fish, largely in China. Christina is also on the board of Stop the Traffik New Zealand. Her other research interests include fair trade and certification schemes.
Craig Tuck is the founder of Slave Free Seas and heads an international team of lawyers and advisers. Craig practises law in New Zealand as a barrister and his areas of interest include International Human Rights, Criminal Law and Health Law. Craig has a background in Criminology and has a Masters degree from Cambridge University. In a world where more than 90% of all trade is conducted on the waterways of the world – he has a particular interest in the people who live and work on the seas and oceans.
Matt Friedman is an international human trafficking expert with more than 22 years of experience as an activist, program designer, evaluator, and manager. He currently supports the new counter-trafficking initiatives of three organizations: Freeland Foundation, based in Thailand; Liberty Asia, based in Hong Kong; and the Mekong Club, an organization of Hong Kong-based private sector business people who have joined forces to fight human trafficking in Asia, which he also founded. These new initiatives include providing training and technical assistance to corporations wishing to become compliant with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act; adapting smartphone technology for use as translation units by law enforcement officers; developing a regional hotline in the Greater Mekong Sub-region to assist migrants in human trafficking situations; and developing a school-based curriculum for educating students about human trafficking and modern slavery.
Professor Neil Boister teaches in Criminal Law, International Criminal Law, Transnational Criminal Law and Criminology. While his early research work was in the area of international humanitarian law, his principal research interest for the last fifteen years has been the suppression of transnational crime through international law. He works as a consultant for NGOs in the area of the legal regulation of transnational crime.