Exploitation by entrepreneurs in the fishing industry
Human slavery is alive and well and it exists in many important industries, especially at the lower levels of the supply chain. Much of this blatant exploitation of human beings takes place in the informal sector, from which major supply chains source raw materials and unfinished products. The market mechanism has not contributed to making the exploitation of labor obsolete. Instead, the contract system appears to have exacerbated the plight of many vulnerable communities across a range of industries, in agriculture, and even in the seafood sector.
Human slavery is particularly prevalent throughout the fishing industry. A few years ago, Reuters uncovered a story of poor migrant workers working under brutal conditions on Thai fishing trawlers, which supply fish products to major brands in global supermarkets. The plight of fishermen in Pakistan is no less worrying.
For fishermen of the Indus and its tributaries, debt bondage is a result of the modern economy, especially the contractual system, which is encouraged by entities like the World Bank in the name of improving productivity. and efficiency. Alizeh Kohari’s excellent reporting on the fishing communities residing on the Taunsa describes the fate of many Punjabi villages caught in the clutches of the contractual system. These fishermen can rarely eat the fish themselves, as everything they catch becomes the property of entrepreneurs who have purchased exclusive rights to all the fish caught by these poor fishing families. Local fishermen have no choice but to work for these intermediaries, as they do not have the possibility of selling their catch directly on the market.
The Taunsa contract system was instituted in 1961, whereby the rivers of the Taunsa were divided into separate plots and the fishing rights were sold to the highest bidders. Winning entrepreneurs decide what they have to pay fishermen for every pound of fish caught, and this meager rate often forces fishermen to go into debt with entrepreneurs to make ends meet. This swirl of debt is intergenerational, like other cases of debt bondage, evident among brickyard workers or the landless. haris.
Decades of river building, flooding and water pollution have prompted tens of thousands of fishermen to move up the river in search of livelihoods. Downstream of the Indus, the contractual system was overturned by a law of the Sindh parliament in 2011. But this law did not mean much because there were hardly any fish left by the time the Indus reached the Sindh. Thus, fishermen continued to move north to the Punjab, voluntarily submitting to exploitation by contractors.
The Lahore High Court issued a temporary injunction in 2018 on the annual lease of the Punjab’s public waterways to the highest bidder. This stay had the potential to break the monopoly of the contract system not only over the Taunsa Dam, but south along the Indus to DG Khan, and to the Chashma Dam. However, this order was not effectively executed and was not renewed. This judicial rollback was the result of pressure from the Fisheries Department, which was apparently struggling financially without income from the annual auction. Fishermen and other civil society groups argued that instead of renewing the contract system, the government of Punjab should let the fishermen work for themselves and pay an annual license to the government for the right to fish. , which appears to be a workable solution to this problem.
Unfortunately, the plight of fishermen transcends what happens on public waterways. Coastal dependent fishing communities are also protesting the federal government’s recent decision to license deep-sea fishing trawlers in the exclusive economic zone about 20 miles off the coasts of Sindh and Balochistan.
The fish stocks of our rivers and coastal areas are already under immense pressure. Using the contract system to maximize profits on our rivers and allowing trawlers to roam our coastal areas worsens the plight of fishing communities and threatens to deplete our remaining fish stocks to a point of. no comeback.
Posted in The Express Tribune, September 17e, 2021.
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