International
Surapan Boonthanom / Reuters

World - Satellites Used to Expose Risks of Forced Labour in Global Fishing

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fishing vessels with crews of forced labourers behave in systematically different ways to the rest of the global fleet, according to a study purporting to be the first to remotely identify vessels potentially engaged in modern slavery.

Using satellite data, machine learning and on-the-ground expertise from human rights practitioners, U.S. researchers found up to 26% of about 16,000 industrial fishing vessels analysed were at high risk of using forced labour.

As many as 100,000 people are estimated to work on these high-risk vessels, many of whom are potential victims of forced labour. The study also showed where these high-risk vessels fished and the ports they visited.

“While these estimates are shocking, and indicate an alarming pervasiveness of forced labour in global fisheries, they likely underrepresent the full extent of the problem,” said lead author Gavin McDonald, a project researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Our findings can advance understanding of this largely hidden issue and support global efforts to combat this humanitarian tragedy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

International media has shone a spotlight on forced labour in the world’s fishing fleet, but the extent of the problem has largely been unknown.

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