A call for review of fishing industry, and action, too

That didn’t take long.

Reaction to coverage of labor abuses in the U.S. fishing industry reported last week by the Associated Press was swift.

Here is what Hawaii’s leaders in Congress had to say:

“I’m alarmed and disturbed by the conditions reported by the Associated Press. In addition to working on expeditiously and independently confirming the veracity of the reports, I have directed my staff to do a comprehensive review of what available tools the Coast Guard as well as the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security have under current law to ensure the safety, human rights, and dignity of these crewmen. The crew on these vessels need immediate protections, which is why we are working with the administration to develop a decisive, aggressive, and appropriate response in addition to researching legislative options.”

— U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz

“The AP’s report that hundreds of foreign workers are being subjected to human rights abuses and inhumane conditions just off our shores is deeply disturbing. This is a problem that has been ignored for years, and must be immediately addressed. We are working with major stakeholders to determine the most expedient course of action to put an end to this unacceptable situation, and protect the safety and human rights of these crewmen, making sure that fair labor standards are enforced for all workers.”

— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“I am deeply disturbed by the situation described in the Associated Press’ report on conditions in Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet. It is completely unacceptable that the inhumane treatment of any workers — foreign or not — is legal under U.S. federal law. I am engaging the full range of stakeholders, including federal agencies and the industry, to determine the extent of the problem and the appropriate course of action to address it. I welcome the industry’s initial steps to respond to this unacceptable situation, and am encouraged they are taking this seriously. I am committed to finding solutions that improve conditions for workers across the fleet and recognize the role industry can play in addressing this matter.”

— Sen. Mazie K. Hirono

The conditions described by the AP are a call for federal investigation and action, which should be carried out as soon as possible. When it comes to people are being taken advantage of, it’s up to our elected leaders to stop it. And we hope members of the public are equally alarmed by these reports of mistreatment of workers in Hawaii’s water.

We agree with Rep. Kaniela Ing, Chairperson of the House Committee on Ocean, Marine Resources, and Hawaiian Affairs, who sent a letter last week to Attorney General Douglas Chin requesting an opinion on the alleged unfair labor and business practices conducted outside Piers 17 and 38 at Honolulu Harbor.

Ing put it well:

“Without any legal recourse, millions of undocumented workers suffer through starvation wages and inhumane work environments across America. It’s an issue too often ignored by mainstream politics. We can all agree that any abuse of any human being has no place in our Aloha State. These investigations reveal why we must act now.”

These words spoken by our leaders are encouraging. We hope actions are the next step.

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