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A US State Department report has likened an advertisement in a 2007 edition of the Otago Daily Times to those from United States newspapers at the height of slavery.
The introduction to the Trafficking in Persons Report 2012, released yesterday by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, includes an advertisement that appeared in the ODT on June 13, 2007.
It offered a $1000 bounty for information leading to the whereabouts of Kismo Pakistan, an Indonesian fisherman who jumped ship from F.V. Oyang 70 while at port in Dunedin.
The report drew parallels with 18th and 19th century American slave owners who placed similar advertisements in newspapers, offering up to $200 for the return of runaway slaves.
The report claimed ads such as the one in the ODT showed the practice continued today.
Otago Daily Times group advertising manager Paul Dwyer said staff gave the advertisement due consideration before it was published because it was "unusual".
It was approved because it appeared the fishing company and a New Zealand fisheries consulting firm were concerned for their missing crew member.
"It's a long bow to draw to say it was related to slavery or sex workers. We consider ourselves to be responsible when it comes to advertising."
The State Department report criticised New Zealand for being a destination country for forced labour, where Indonesian, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai fishermen were subjected to debt bondage, imposition of significant debts, physical and mental abuse and excessive hours of work.
It also criticised New Zealand for being a "source country" for sex trafficking of a small number of girls and boys as street prostitutes, and foreign women from China and Southeast Asia who were sometimes recruited to become prostitutes and might be at risk of coercive practices.
Ms Clinton said sex trafficking and exploitative labour practices such as these were examples of "modern slavery".
The Maritime Union of New Zealand said the report's heavy criticism of the use of overseas labour in the New Zealand fishing industry was justified, and confirmed how bad practices had become in the New Zealand maritime sector.
General secretary Joe Fleetwood congratulated the hard-hitting nature of the report, which was a "major embarrassment" for the New Zealand Government and fishing industry.
"This report confirms and vindicates the stance of the Maritime Union that the deregulated industry and exploitation of overseas labour has been a stain on New Zealand's reputation.
"The Maritime Union has been pushing for action on this issue for a decade."
Mr Fleetwood said the damage to New Zealand's global reputation was hard to quantify.
"The blame must be put at the foot of the cowboy operators in the industry, and successive governments who soft-pedalled the issue and only took belated action when forced to.
"The lesson being, they can't afford to sweep these dirty little secrets under the carpet any more."
He said the Government had admitted the foreign crews issue in fishing was a disaster zone and the recently announced plan to phase out foreign charter vessels reflected this.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand had acted on a regular basis to assist foreign crew members in distress, he said.