Ignorance abetting traffickersHuman trafficking and forced labor in the shrimp industry sound like the kind of news that may emerge from a poor and underdeveloped country, yet it somehow exists in our highly-industrialized society. Last year’s shocking news of a man who was sold to a shrimp boat owner and forced indentured labor for 25 years was bad enough, but it pales in comparison to the recent capture of a criminal ring by the Korea Coast Guard. The ring had been operating on a much larger scale in luring and trafficking mentally-disabled and homeless people for coerced labor in the local deep-sea fishing industry and on shrimp farms. As it transpires, the victims never received any remuneration for their labor. Instead, they were kept locked up at an inn in Gunsan, a port city in North Jeolla, so that their whereabouts could be kept secret.
Even more surprisingly, the kingpin has been running what appears to be a de facto second-generation family business. A spokesman for the coast guard said that it discovered the criminal enterprise while investigating the exploitation of people with disabilities ahead of April 20, which Korea celebrates as its official day for disabled persons.
However, the police report raises several important questions. First, the suspects turned out to have been using the same inn as a base for their human trafficking, exploitation, and recruitment business for 30 years. Victims who began in relatively good health were subjected to repeated beatings and treated as slaves in confinement. As such, it is hard to understand how the local community could have remained ignorant of the goings-on.
The inn would have had to receive routine visits from local fire and police departments for regular checkups. Their inability to discover any improprieties reeks of gross negligence, at best, or hint of complicity.
The coast guard said it routinely communicates with fishing trawlers to prevent any malpractice on board vessels. And on this score, the victims agreed that they had spoken to the police by phone but were unable to seek help because the captain was always on hand. But as the authorities claimed, they had no basis to interrogate or search ship owners, cynics have suggested they may have been turning a blind eye to the illegalities taking place.
The coast guard suspects there are more trafficking cases waiting to be discovered in the local fishing industry. However, it is not just the responsibility of police to reinforce their surveillance, but also residents in local communities.