Detecting forced labour and human trafficking in Indonesia's fisheries


UnionAID and Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia have jointly developed this project for the initiation of an early detection system for instances of forced labour and human trafficking of fisheries workers at the Village and Aru Islands District levels, in Indonesia.

About Destructive Fishing Watch Indonesia

Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia is an association that is an alliance of organisations and individuals concerned with the issues of sustainable fisheries, poverty, climate change, protection of fishermen and fisheries workers, and destructive fishing practices and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

DFW-Indonesia was established in 2000 and is actively involved in coastal and island community empowerment programs, research, coastal poverty reduction, climate change, and marine policy advocacy at the national and regional levels.

The main problem the project is aiming to solve

The fisheries sector in the Aru Islands Regency, Indonesia, faces a grave and persistent problem of forced labour and human trafficking among its workforce. Despite the absence of foreign fishing vessels in Indonesia for the past eight years since 2015, the exploitation of Indonesian fisheries workers continues. This issue is supported by complaint data at the National Fishers Center (NFC) for the period of 2022 to early 2023, which identified 21 cases involving 43 victims subjected to forced labour conditions, as defined by ILO Convention No. 29, 1930. Furthermore, when these cases are analysed in detail regarding their processes, methods, and purposes, they can be categorised as human trafficking cases, aligning with Indonesia Law number 21 of 2007.

The depth and extent of this problem far surpasses the cases reported to the NFC. A wide range of labour abuses, including accidents, illness, lack of health and employment insurance, unpaid salaries, fraud, document withholding, and threats, plague the fisheries sector in the Aru Islands Regency. Observations made by Regional Fishers Center (RFC) personnel in Dobo, Aru, have also uncovered indications of murder, neglect, and debt bondage. In some areas, shelters for abandoned, sick, runaway, and transient fishery crew members have sprung up independently, underscoring the gravity of the situation.

Key Challenges:

  1. Lack of workers’ rights awareness: The absence of a fisheries workers’ union or local fisheries workers’ protection forum leaves victims without support in raising awareness of their rights or in handling cases.
  2. Insufficient Government resources: The local government lacks the resources, both in terms of knowledge and budget, to provide assistance to victims.
  3. Lack of data and transparency: A dearth of credible data on fisheries workers, the absence of a clear supply chain map, and a lack of transparency regarding actors in the fishing industry create an ideal environment for fisheries crime to persist.

How this project plans to make a difference 

The project aims to increase fisheries transparency through initiating the development of an early detection system based on villages and identified hotspot locations.

Key objectives:

  1. Raise awareness of workers’ rights among fisheries workers and other stakeholders.
  2. Establish a support system for victims, offering assistance in case intake and handling.
  3. Work with local authorities and organisations to allocate resources and provide support for victims.
  4. Promote transparency and data collection within the fishing industry to prevent further exploitation.

By tackling these challenges and working towards these goals, the project aims to create a safer and more just environment for fisheries workers in the Aru Islands Regency, ultimately eradicating the persistent issues of forced labour and human trafficking in the region.

Project duration

October 2023 to April 2024

Related stories

UnionAID supports democratic, worker-led organisations that help empower working people to improve their work and livelihoods through collective action.

Find out more about what we do and how to get involved here or become a Kiwi Solidarity Member now.