In 2015, evidence of slavery on a massive scale surfaced in the remote islands of eastern Indonesia.

Illegal fishing in Indonesian territorial waters had risen to an extreme level, but many of the Thai fishing boats responsible harboured a much worse secret aboard.

The way they forced us to work is worse than slaves. Slaves would have their own time, and we didn't have any. We didn't have time to sleep. We didn't have time to eat. We only had time to work.

A trafficked fisherman

In the last year, over 2,000 men have come forward who were enslaved on Thai fishing boats in Indonesian waters, working for as long as a decade without pay.

Thousands of migrants from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos in search of higher-paying jobs were lured onto Thai fishing boats with empty promises about jobs "on the other side" and into, in some cases, years of ongoing seaborne labour.

Many of the enslaved fishermen were facing abuse, ranging from physical assault to lack of food and sleep. 

"The way they forced us to work is worse than slaves. Slaves would have their own time, and we didn't have any. We didn't have time to sleep. We didn't have time to eat. We only had time to work," says one of the trafficked fishermen.

The illegal fishing boats and their cheap crews were essential to one of the world's most important food suppliers - Thailand's $7bn fishing industry.

Thailand is the world's third-largest seafood exporter, and the United States consumes more of that seafood - including tuna and shrimp - than any other country.

"It's almost impossible to separate what effectively are slave-caught fish from fish that are caught through more legitimate means.... It is in fact part of the business model. One of the reasons why your shrimp cocktail at your local restaurant doesn't cost you an arm and a leg, is because the labour cost is so low," says Paul Dillion from the International Organization for Migration.

How did thousands of men end up slaves to the global demand for cheap seafood? After years of unpaid labour, will they receive any justice at all? And will companies in the US that profit from similar activity be held accountable?

Fault Lines travels to Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand to trace the hidden costs of cheap seafood.

Source: Al Jazeera