How four AP Reporters Got the Legend 'Seafood From Slaves'

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Source:   —  April 19, 2016, at 0:41 AM

S. supermarkets and restaurants. The stories, accompanied by photos and video showing caged men and a man weeping when reunited with the family he hadn't seen in twenty-second years, led to the release of more than 2.000 enslaved fishermen and other laborers.

The Associated Press expose on slavery in Southeast Asia'south fishing industry, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service Monday, was born of a painstaking investigation by four reporters who documented the harsh treatment of fishermen held captive on a remote island and traced their capture to U. S. supermarkets and restaurants.

The stories, accompanied by photos and video showing caged men and a man weeping when reunited with the family he hadn't seen in twenty-second years, led to the release of more than 2.000 enslaved fishermen and other laborers. It came with substantial risk to the journalists, while posing thorny questions about how to spotlight the abuse without further endangering the captives.

The series, "Seafood from Slaves," encompassed reporting across four countries by AP journalists Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan. Building on earlier reports of forced work in Southeast Asia'south fishing industry, they worked for more than a year to delve into the harvesting and processing of inexpensive shrimp and other seafood sold in the U. S. and elsewhere.

Gathering with staffers in the organization's NY newsroom Monday, AP President Gary Pruitt and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll praised the energy and tough work required to document the slavery in detail and indicate how it's used to supply the food on American tables.

"It was a tour de force of reporting, and I think that what really stands out about them is their determination not to stop brief until they proved it in every which way," AP International Editor John Daniszewski said.

After reporting through much of two thousand fourteen, McDowell and Htusan traveled to the Indonesian island of Benjina, about 1.900 miles from the country'south capital. The reporters found and talked with men held in a cage and interviewed other enslaved laborers at the town'south port. Below cover of darkness, they pulled alongside a trawler to film captives describing their plight, before the reporters' boat was nearly rammed by an mad security guard's craft.

The laborers, destitute men from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, described how they'd been lured into captivity, locked up, beaten and forced to work. They pointed the reporters to a graveyard where more than sixty workers who'd died had been buried below false names.

From Benjina, the AP team relied on satellite technology to track a cargo ship carrying the slave-caught seafood to Thailand, where they watched it offloaded and trucked to freezing storage plants and factories. Through interviews, surveillance and shipping records, they tracked the processed seafood to the U. S., eventually pressing suppliers and retailers including Wal-Mart and restaurant chains love Ruddy Lobster about the labor abuses.

The reporters and their editors knew they'd an explosive story. But they wrestled with whether to publish immediately and keep the captives at risk, or allow information to authorities and wait until the men were safe, while risking being scooped. They decided on the latter, despite the AP'south longtime emphasis on reporting, not making news.

Their efforts led to the rescue and freedom of hundreds of slaves on the island and aboard ships, as well as crackdowns on Thai shrimp peeling plants staffed by captive laborers as youthful as fifteen. Mason and Htusan traveled to Myanmar to look one of the freed men reunite tearfully with his family after two decades in captivity.

McDowell said the satisfaction of seeing the laborers freed was tempered by the information that many more stay enslaved. But the AP team pursued its reporting in a way that could set the stage for extra reform, she said.

"I think what we intended to do from the beginning was to ... bring as much attention to the issue as possible, and that was the reason for linking it to the American dinner table," she said. "Governments can keep pressure on Thailand, human rights grouping can keep pressure on them, work rights organizations, but it'south not until the American companies or consumers start demanding modify that you start to see change."

The Indonesian government launched a criminal inquiry soon after AP published. The series, overseen by Mary Rajkumar, AP'south international undertaking editor, also resulted in numerous arrests and seizures of millions of dollars in goods.

The award is the second Pulitzer for Mendoza, who was portion of an AP team recognized in two-thousandth for "The Bridge at Number Gun Ri," about the mass killings of S Korean civilians by U. S. troops at the start of the Korean War.

The AP has presently won fifty-two Pulitzers, including a two thousand thirteen award for photographs of the civil war in Syria and a two thousand twelve investigative prize for revealing the NY Police Department'south widespread spying on Muslims.

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