An exhaustive investigation of the seafood industry in Southeast Asia that resulted in freedom for more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen and other laborers has earned a team of four Associated Press journalists a prestigious George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting.
AP’s Margie Mason, Robin McDowell, Martha Mendoza and Esther Htusan will share the honor with Ian Urbina of The New York Times, who reported a six-part series about lawlessness on the high seas, it was announced Sunday night by Long Island University, which administers the awards.
"The AP reporters documented the plight of impoverished men from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand lured into captivity, locked in cages, beaten, and forced to perform dangerous work with little sleep to catch and process seafood destined for U.S. consumers and their pets," the university said. "They found the graves of some workers who did not survive, buried on a remote island under false names. As a result of the AP reporting, more than 2,000 captives were released, ships were seized, and businesses closed, American companies faced calls to cease selling slave-tainted seafood, and authorities in Washington, at the United Nations, and across Asia began seeking new ways to confront and control the abuses."
Other honors earned by the four AP reporters to date are the gold award in the Barlett & Steele Awards for Investigative Business Journalism and USC Annenberg’s Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting. They are also finalists for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
"These four women are incredibly brave and tenacious," AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said. "Their painstaking work directly linked the horror of slavery to America’s grocery shelves and has led to real and substantial change. Most important, more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen have been freed specifically because of what these journalists exposed. Nothing could be more rewarding than that."
Vice President for International News John Daniszewski added: "This was an extraordinary and harrowing quest by four intrepid women reporters who refused to let anything deter them from obtaining incontrovertible proof that fishermen were being routinely enslaved by greedy fishing boat owners, often for decades."
Daniszewski continued: "Overcoming numerous obstacles, they got their story, linked it to seafood sold in the United States and other countries, and – because of their journalism – liberty has been restored to more than 2,000 formerly enslaved workers. We could not be prouder."
These are the 67th annual George Polk Awards in Journalism, honoring winners in 16 categories. The awards were established in 1949 by Long Island University to commemorate George Polk, a CBS correspondent murdered in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.
Winners of the 2015 awards will be honored at a luncheon ceremony at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan on April 8.