AP wins first Pulitzer for Public Service for story on slaves in Indonesia
JAKARTA, Indonesia – The remarkable story on slave labor in the fishing industry, which took the Associated Press 18 months to report, not only led to the rescue and freedom of hundreds of slaves and laborers in Southeast Asia, but also marked a historic achievement for AP.
AP won its first Pulitzer for Public Service for their series, "Seafood from Slaves." The series described the lives of fishermen trapped in cages, barely fed and not permitted to leave – men treated as slaves to catch seafood sold worldwide.
AP journalists Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan, exposed slavery in the Asian seafood industry across 4 countries – Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
The Pulitzer said they awarded the prize to the AP "for an investigation of severe labor abuses tied to the supply of seafood to American supermarkets and restaurants, reporting that freed 2,000 slaves, brought perpetrators to justice and inspired reforms."
One of the major places slavery transpired? Indonesia.
"For months, Mason and McDowell turned over leads until they heard about the remote Indonesian island village of Benjina. When they arrived, they discovered hundreds of Burmese slaves, some of them caged, others buried in a company cemetery, their graves marked with fake Thai names," wrote AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll in her cover letter to the Pulitzer judges.
"McDowell and Htusan took a small wooden boat out to a trawler where fishermen pleaded for help, mere feet from their captain. Ordered to leave, the reporters persisted and were chased in a speedboat by angry company officials who threatened to ram them."
A week after the stories were published, "the journalists went back to Benjina... when Indonesian authorities evacuated hundreds of other slaves. More would follow. Mason went home with one man and watched as he collapsed in the arms of his wailing mother for the first time since he was tricked into slavery 22 years before."
The Indonesian government also launched a criminal inquiry.
But it wasn't just in remote Indonesian islands that the slavery transpired. In Thailand, reporters found slaves peeling shrimps in deplorable conditions right outside Bangkok.
The series, overseen by Mary Rajkumar, AP's international enterprise editor, resulted in numerous arrests and seizures of millions of dollars in goods.
Additionally, the team found that the seafood caught by slaves were being consumed all over the world.
"We linked the sheds to supply chains that reach European and Asian markets, popular U.S. brands and supermarkets and restaurant chains including Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods and Red Lobster," Carroll said.
"The reporting has been meticulous. Not a single company among more than 50 named has questioned AP’s findings; instead, they admit more needs to be done." – Rappler.com