TIME Burma

Are Slaves Catching the Fish You Buy?

In this Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 image from video, slaves from Burma lean over the deck of their trawler at the port in Benjina, Indonesia.
AP Slaves from Burma lean over the deck of their trawler at the port in Benjina, Indonesia, on Nov. 26, 2014

"These situations would be called modern slavery by any measure"

(BENJINA, Indonesia) — The Burmese slaves sat on the floor and stared through the rusty bars of their locked cage, hidden on a tiny tropical island thousands of miles from home.

Just a few yards away, other workers loaded cargo ships with slave-caught seafood that clouds the supply networks of major supermarkets, restaurants and even pet stores in the United States.

But the eight imprisoned men were considered flight risks — laborers who might dare run away. They lived on a few bites of rice and curry a day in a space barely big enough to lie down, stuck until the next trawler forces them back to sea.

“All I did was tell my captain I couldn’t take it anymore, that I wanted to go home,” said Kyaw Naing, his dark eyes pleading into an Associated Press video camera sneaked in by a sympathetic worker. “The next time we docked,” he said nervously out of earshot of a nearby guard, “I was locked up.”

Here, in the Indonesian island village of Benjina and the surrounding waters, hundreds of trapped men represent one of the most desperate links criss-crossing between companies and countries in the seafood industry. This intricate web of connections separates the fish we eat from the men who catch it, and obscures a brutal truth: Your seafood may come from slaves.

The men the AP interviewed on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world. They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was then shipped back to Thailand, where it entered the global stream of commerce.

Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America’s major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.

In a year-long investigation, the AP talked to more than 40 current and former slaves in Benjina. The AP documented the journey of a single large shipment of slave-caught seafood from the Indonesian village, tracking it by satellite to a gritty Thai harbor. Upon its arrival, AP journalists followed trucks that loaded and drove the seafood over four nights to dozens of factories, cold storage plants and the country’s biggest fish market.

The tainted seafood mixes in with other fish at a number of sites in Thailand, including processing plants. U.S. Customs records show that several of those Thai factories ship to America. They also sell to Europe and Asia, but the AP traced shipments to the U.S., where trade records are public.

By this time, it is nearly impossible to tell where a specific fish caught by a slave ends up. However, entire supply chains are muddied, and money is trickling down the line to companies that benefit from slave labor.

The major corporations contacted would not speak on the record but issued statements that strongly condemned labor abuses. All said they were taking steps to prevent forced labor, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable.

Several independent seafood distributors who did comment described the costly and exhaustive steps taken to ensure their supplies are clean. They said the discovery of slaves underscores how hard it is to monitor what goes on halfway around the world.

Santa Monica Seafood, a large independent importer that sells to restaurants, markets and direct from its store, has been a leader in improving international fisheries, and sends buyers around the world to inspect vendors.

“The supply chain is quite cloudy, especially when it comes from offshore,” said Logan Kock, vice president for responsible sourcing, who acknowledged that the industry recognizes and is working to address the problem. “Is it possible a little of this stuff is leaking through? Yeah, it is possible. We are all aware of it.”

The slaves interviewed by the AP had no idea where the fish they caught was headed. They knew only that it was so valuable, they were not allowed to eat it.

They said the captains on their fishing boats forced them to drink unclean water and work 20- to 22-hour shifts with no days off. Almost all said they were kicked, whipped with toxic stingray tails or otherwise beaten if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing, as they hauled in heavy nets with squid, shrimp, snapper, grouper and other fish.

Some shouted for help over the deck of their trawler in the port to reporters, as bright fluorescent lights silhouetted their faces in the darkness.

“I want to go home. We all do,” one man called out in Burmese, a cry repeated by others. The AP is not using the names of some men for their safety. “Our parents haven’t heard from us for a long time. I’m sure they think we are dead.”

Another glanced fearfully over his shoulder toward the captain’s quarters, and then yelled: “It’s torture. When we get beaten, we can’t do anything back. … I think our lives are in the hands of the Lord of Death.”

In the worst cases, numerous men reported maimings or even deaths on their boats.

“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us,” said Hlaing Min, 30, a runaway slave from Benjina. “There must be a mountain of bones under the sea. … The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”

_______

For Burmese slaves, Benjina is the end of the world.

Roughly 3,500 people live in the town that straddles two small islands separated by a five-minute boat ride. Part of the Maluku chain, formerly known as the Spice Islands, the area is about 400 miles north of Australia, and hosts small kangaroos and rare birds of paradise with dazzling bright feathers.

Benjina is impossible to reach by boat for several months of the year, when monsoon rains churn the Arafura Sea. It is further cut off by a lack of Internet access. Before a cell tower was finally installed last month, villagers would climb nearby hills each evening in the hope of finding a signal strong enough to send a text. An old landing strip has not been used in years.

The small harbor is occupied by Pusaka Benjina Resources, whose five-story office compound stands out and includes the cage with the slaves. The company is the only fishing operation on Benjina officially registered in Indonesia, and is listed as the owner of more than 90 trawlers. However, the captains are Thai, and the Indonesian government is reviewing to see if the boats are really Thai-owned. Pusaka Benjina did not respond to phone calls and a letter, and did not speak to a reporter who waited for two hours in the company’s Jakarta office.

On the dock in Benjina, former slaves unload boats for food and pocket money. Many are men who were abandoned by their captains — sometimes five, 10 or even 20 years ago — and remain stranded.

In the deeply forested island interiors, new runaways forage for food and collect rainwater, living in constant fear of being found by hired slave catchers.

And just off a beach covered in sharp coral, a graveyard swallowed by the jungle entombs dozens of fishermen. They are buried under fake Thai names given to them when they were tricked or sold onto their ships, forever covering up evidence of their captors’ abuse, their friends say.

“I always thought if there was an entrance there had to be an exit,” said Tun Lin Maung, a slave abandoned on Benjina, as other men nodded or looked at the ground. “Now I know that’s not true.”

The Arafura Sea provides some of the world’s richest and most diverse fishing grounds, teeming with mackerel, tuna, squid and many other species.

Although it is Indonesian territory, it draws many illegal fishing fleets, including from Thailand. The trade that results affects the United States and other countries.

The U.S. counts Thailand as one of its top seafood suppliers, and buys about 20 percent of the country’s $7 billion annual exports in the industry. Last year, the State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, placing the country in the ranks of North Korea, Syria and Iran. However, there were no additional sanctions.

Thailand’s seafood industry is largely run off the backs of migrant laborers, said Kendra Krieder, a State Department analyst who focuses on supply chains. The treatment of some of these workers falls under the U.S. government’s definition of slavery, which includes forcing people to keep working even if they once signed up for the jobs, or trafficking them into situations where they are exploited.

“In the most extreme cases, you’re talking about someone kidnapped or tricked into working on a boat, physically beaten, chained,” said Krieder. “These situations would be called modern slavery by any measure.”

The Thai government says it is cleaning up the problem. On the bustling floor of North America’s largest seafood show in Boston earlier this month, an official for the Department of Fisheries laid out a plan to address labor abuse, including new laws that mandate wages, sick leave and shifts of no more than 14 hours. However, Kamonpan Awaiwanont stopped short when presented details about the men in Benjina.

“This is still happening now?” he asked. He paused. “We are trying to solve it. This is ongoing.”

The Thai government also promises a new national registry of illegal migrant workers, including more than 100,000 flooding the seafood industry. However, policing has now become even harder because decades of illegal fishing have depleted stocks close to home, pushing the boats farther and deeper into foreign waters.

The Indonesian government has called a temporary ban on most fishing, aiming to clear out foreign poachers who take billions of dollars of seafood from the country’s waters. As a result, more than 50 boats are now docked in Benjina, leaving up to 1,000 more slaves stranded onshore and waiting to see what will happen next.

Indonesian officials are trying to enforce laws that ban cargo ships from picking up fish from boats at sea. This practice forces men to stay on the water for months or sometimes years at a time, essentially creating floating prisons.

Susi Pudjiastuti, the new Fisheries Minister, said she has heard of different fishing companies putting men in cells. She added that she believes the trawlers on Benjina may really have Thai owners, despite the Indonesian paperwork, reflecting a common practice of faking or duplicating licenses.

She said she is deeply disturbed about the abuse on Benjina and other islands.

“I’m very sad. I lose my eating appetite. I lose my sleep,” she said. “They are building up an empire on slavery, on stealing, on fish(ing) out, on massive environmental destruction for a plate of seafood.”

_________

The story of slavery in the Thai seafood industry started decades ago with the same push-and-pull that shapes economic immigration worldwide — the hope of escaping grinding poverty to find a better life somewhere else.

In recent years, as the export business has expanded, it has become more difficult to convince young Burmese or Cambodian migrants and impoverished Thais — all of whom were found on Benjina — to accept the dangerous jobs. Agents have become more desperate and ruthless, recruiting children and the disabled, lying about wages and even drugging and kidnapping migrants, according to a former broker who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.

The broker said agents then sell the slaves, usually to Thai captains of fishing boats or the companies that own them. Each slave typically costs around $1,000, according to Patima Tungpuchayakul, manager of the Thai-based nonprofit Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation. The men are later told they have to work off the “debt” with wages that don’t come for months or years, or at all.

“The employers are probably more worried about the fish than the workers’ lives,” she said. “They get a lot of money from this type of business.”

Illegal Thai boats are falsely registered to fish in Indonesia through graft, sometimes with the help of government authorities. Praporn Ekouru, a Thai former member of Parliament, admitted to the AP that he had bribed Indonesian officials to go into their waters, and complained that the Indonesian government’s crackdown is hurting business.

“In the past, we sent Thai boats to fish in Indonesian waters by changing their flags,” said Praporn, who is also chairman of the Songkhla Fisheries Association in southern Thailand. “We had to pay bribes of millions of baht per year, or about 200,000 baht ($6,100) per month. … The officials are not receiving money anymore because this order came from the government.”

Illegal workers are given false documents, because Thai boats cannot hire undocumented crew. One of the slaves in Benjina, Maung Soe, said he was given a fake seafarer book belonging to a Thai national, accepted in Indonesia as an informal travel permit. He rushed back to his boat to dig up a crinkled copy.

“That’s not my name, not my signature,” he said angrily, pointing at the worn piece of paper. “The only thing on here that is real is my photograph.”

Soe said he had agreed to work on a fishing boat only if it stayed in Thai waters, because he had heard Indonesia was a place from which workers never came back.

“They tricked me,” he said. “They lied to me. … They created fake papers and put me on the boat, and now here I am in Indonesia.”

The slaves said the level of abuse on the fishing boats depends on individual captains and assistants. Aung Naing Win, who left a wife and two children behind in Myanmar two years ago, said some fishermen were so depressed that they simply threw themselves into the water. Win, 40, said his most painful task was working without proper clothing in the ship’s giant freezer, where temperatures drop to 39 degrees below zero.

“It was so cold, our hands were burning,” he said. “No one really cared if anyone died.”

________

The shipment the AP tracked from the port of Benjina carried fish from smaller trawlers; AP journalists talked to slaves on more than a dozen of them.

A crane hoisted the seafood onto a refrigerated cargo ship called the Silver Sea Line, with an immense hold as big as 50 semi-trucks. At this point, by United Nations and U.S. standards, every fish in that hold is considered associated with slavery.

The ship belongs to the Silver Sea Reefer Co., which is registered in Thailand and has at least nine refrigerated cargo boats. The company said it is not involved with the fishermen.

“We only carry the shipment and we are hired in general by clients,” said owner Panya Luangsomboon. “We’re separated from the fishing boats.”

The AP followed the Silver Sea Line by satellite over 15 days to Samut Sakhon. When it arrived, workers on the dock packed the seafood over four nights onto more than 150 trucks, which then delivered their loads around the city.

One truck bore the name and bird logo of Kingfisher Holdings Ltd., which supplies frozen and canned seafood around the world. Another truck went to Mahachai Marine Foods Co., a cold storage business that also supplies to Kingfisher and other exporters, according to Kawin Ngernanek, whose family runs it.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” said Kawin, who also serves as spokesman for the Thai Overseas Fisheries Association. “Kingfisher buys several types of products.”

When asked about abusive labor practices, Kingfisher did not answer repeated requests for comment. Mahachai manager Narongdet Prasertsri responded, “I have no idea about it at all.”

Every month, Kingfisher and its subsidiary KF Foods Ltd. sends about 100 metric tons of seafood from Thailand to America, according to U.S. Customs Bills of Lading. These shipments have gone to Santa Monica Seafood, Stavis Seafoods — located on Boston’s historic Fish Pier — and other distributors.

Richard Stavis, whose grandfather started the dealership in 1929, shook his head when told about the slaves whose catch may end up at businesses he buys from. He said his company visits processors and fisheries, requires notarized certification of legal practices and uses third-party audits.

“The truth is, these are the kind of things that keep you up at night,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing I want to stop. … There are companies like ours that care and are working as hard as they can.”

Wholesalers like Stavis sell packages of fish, branded and unbranded, that can end up on supermarket shelves with a private label or house brand. Stavis’ customers also include Sysco, the largest food distributor in the U.S.; there is no clear way to know which particular fish was sold to them.

Sysco declined an interview, but the company’s code of conduct says it “will not knowingly work with any supplier that uses forced, bonded, indentured or slave labor.”

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for National Fisheries Institute, which represents about 75 percent of the U.S. seafood industry, said the reports of abuse were “disturbing” and “disheartening.” ”But these type of things flourish in the shadows,” he said.

A similar pattern repeats itself with other shipments and other companies, as the supply chain splinters off in many directions in Samut Sakhon. It is in this Thai port that slave-caught seafood starts to lose its history.

The AP followed another truck to Niwat Co., which sells to Thai Union Manufacturing Co., according to part owner Prasert Luangsomboon. Weeks later, when confronted about forced labor in their supply chain, Niwat referred several requests for comment to Luangsomboon, who could not be reached for further comment.

Thai Union Manufacturing is a subsidiary of Thai Union Frozen Products PCL., the country’s largest seafood corporation, with $3.5 billion in annual sales. This parent company, known simply as Thai Union, owns Chicken of the Sea and is buying Bumble Bee, although the AP did not observe any tuna fisheries. In September, it became the country’s first business to be certified by Dow Jones for sustainable practices, after meeting environmental and social reviews.

Thai Union said it condemns human rights violations, but multiple stakeholders must be part of the solution. “We all have to admit that it is difficult to ensure the Thai seafood industry’s supply chain is 100 percent clean,” CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said in an emailed statement.

Thai Union ships thousands of cans of cat food to the U.S., including household brands like Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. These end up on shelves of major grocery chains, such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons, as well as pet stores; again, however, it’s impossible to tell if a particular can of cat food might have slave-caught fish.

Thai Union says its direct clients include Wal-Mart, which declined an interview but said in an email statement: “We care about the men and women in our supply chain, and we are concerned about the ethical recruitment of workers.”

Wal-Mart described its work with several non-profits to end forced labor in Thailand, including Project Issara, and referred the AP to Lisa Rende Taylor, its director. She noted that slave-caught seafood can slip into supply chains undetected at several points, such as when it is traded between boats or mingles with clean fish at processing plants. She also confirmed that seafood sold at the Talay Thai market — to where the AP followed several trucks — can enter international supply chains.

“Transactions throughout Thai seafood supply chains are often not well-documented, making it difficult to estimate exactly how much seafood available on supermarket shelves around the world is tainted by human trafficking and forced labor,” she said.

Poj Aramwattananont, president of an industry group that represents Thai Union, Kingfisher and others, said Thais are not “jungle people” and know that human trafficking is wrong. However, he acknowledged that Thai companies cannot always track down the origins of their fish.

“We don’t know where the fish come from when we buy from Indonesia,” said Poj of the Thai Frozen Foods Association. “We have no record. We don’t know if that fish is good or bad.”

______

The seafood the slaves on Benjina catch may travel around the world, but their own lives often end right here, in this island village.

A crude cemetery holds more than graves strangled by tall grasses and jungle vines, where small wooden markers are neatly labelled, some with the falsified names of slaves and boats. Only their friends remember where they were laid to rest.

In the past, former slave Hla Phyo said, supervisors on ships simply tossed bodies into the sea to be devoured by sharks. But after authorities and companies started demanding that every man be accounted for on the roster upon return, captains began stowing corpses alongside the fish in ship freezers until they arrived back in Benjina, the slaves said.

Lifting his knees as he stepped over the thick brush, Phyo searched for two grave markers overrun by weeds — friends he helped bury.

It’s been five years since he himself escaped the sea and struggled to survive on the island. Every night, his mind drifts back to his mother in Myanmar. He knows she must be getting old now, and he desperately wants to return to her. Standing among so many anonymous tombs stacked on top of each other, hopelessness overwhelms him.

“I’m starting to feel like I will be in Indonesia forever,” he said, wiping a tear away. “I remember thinking when I was digging, the only thing that awaits us here is death.”

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in January, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller‘s powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller’s pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city’s King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone’s Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram’s terror.

Mosa’ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L’Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo’s work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida’s southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens) Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants’ sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

TIME portfolio

See What Undocumented Immigrants Carry Across the Border

Here are the ordinary objects undocumented immigrants take with them on their journey to the U.S.

Covering immigration issues can prove challenging for photographers – and not because access can be, at times, tough to obtain. Instead, image-makers such as Emanuele Satolli have to find new ways to depict immigrants’ hardship in a saturated visual landscape.

In 2007, when the Italian photographer lived in Guatemala, he realized that immigration affected the large majority of people he encountered. “Some are saving money to go North, others are enjoying their new houses after spending a few years in the U.S., while many women have to take care of their families after their husbands left for the U.S.,” he says. “I was impressed to see that immigration had such a strong [impact] on life there. And that’s why I wanted to dig deeper into this topic.”

Yet, he didn’t want to produce yet another series that depicted immigrants “crossing rivers or jumping on trains in their attempt to reach the American dream,” he says. “I had to try to find a new way to talk about this.”

And that new take came after reading a recent TIME LightBox article. “I was really inspired by [TIME’s International Photo Editor] Alice Gabriner’s post where she talked about how photo editors and photographers should work together to overcome visual challenges. In that post, she explained how [photographer] Alexandra Boulat tried to find a new way to talk about the Palestinian tragedy.”

That was in 2006, when Boulat, who had documented wars since the 1990s, had grown frustrated of “photographing endless scenes of violence in the same way she had for years, fearing that these pictures had lost their impact,” Gabriner wrote. “As a result, she began taking different kinds of pictures, focusing on the ordinary and details of normal life.”

The ordinary and the details can be found in Satolli’s images of Central American immigrants. “I was interested in the few things these immigrants bring with them on this perilous and long journey,” he says. One man carried with him a small Virgin Mary statue, hair gel and toilet paper, among other objects. Another brought an extra pair of shoes, a bible, toilet paper and a cell phone, while another traveled with only one pair of glasses so “he’d look like a local,” says Satolli.

The 35-year-old photographer met most of his subjects at La Casa del Migrante, a refuge run by Scalabrinian missionaries in the border town of Tecún Umán in Guatemala where immigrants can get help and rest for two or three days.

Now, Satolli, who continues his work on immigration, hopes that his simple, yet powerful images will help humanize undocumented immigrants. It’s an especially important goal he says, at a time when we’re inundated by images that are just the opposite—“in which [dramatic scenes] become ordinary”—and when immigration is likely to take a central role in U.S. politics this year and in 2016.

Emanuele Satolli is an Italian photojournalist based in Rome. TIME LightBox previously published his photo essay The World’s Deadliest Drug: Inside a Krokodil Cookhouse in 2013.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Read next: The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 23 – Jan. 30

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME animals

Dogs Arrived in the Americas Only 10,000 Years Ago, Research Suggests

That's several thousand years after humans first migrated to the region

They may be man’s best friend, but new research indicates that dogs arrived in the Americas thousands of years after humans did.

According to a recent study, dogs only came to the region about 10,000 years ago, NBC News reports.

Researchers arrived at this conclusion by testing 42 D.N.A. samples taken from taken from ancient dog remains and comparing it with the same number of samples from previous studies. Their findings indicate canines came to the continent with a second wave of human migration, long after humans had initially settled in the New World.

The study’s lead author Kelsey Witt said in a statement that dogs were one of the earliest species to accompany human migration to every continent. “They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time,” she said.

[NBC]

TIME portfolio

Matt Black Is TIME’s Pick for Instagram Photographer of the Year 2014

The Californian photographer has spent the last year putting poverty on the map using Instagram

For many of his Instagram followers, Matt Black is a newcomer. He joined the photo-sharing app in December of 2013 to chart, through a series of gritty and deeply personal black-and-white photographs, the physical terrain of economic inequality in his native Central Valley of California, home to three of the five poorest metropolitan areas in the U.S.

“The Central Valley is this kind of vast unknown zone,” Black says. “These towns, these communities are right in the heart of the richest state in the richest country in the world. It’s halfway between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and yet, you still have conditions like these,” where poor communities are left with bad roads, dirty water, crummy schools and polluted air.

Black’s work might be new to Instagram, but the 44-year-old photographer has spent more than 20 years exploring issues of migration, farming and the environment in the area. That was never his intention, though. “When I first started in photography, my goal was to get out of the Central Valley,” he says. “But it quickly became clear to me that if I had a significant thing to say, it would be about the place I’m from.”

Over 100 years, migration, farm labor and poverty have shaped the region, he says. “These are the places that actually produce what feeds the nation, and the irony is that we’re so dependent on these communities for food and yet rarely do people take time to actually look at them and understand what the challenges are, what these folks are facing — what their lives are like.”

Black’s Geography of Poverty project is designed to address these issues. “People should care because we’re all implicated in this system,” he says. “What we pay at the supermarket is what eventually goes to the farms and goes to the farm laborers. We’re all connected. So, [if] I can lift that veil and make that connection between what we eat, the choices we make, and how that impacts real people — communities — that’s the role I can play.”

The best way to do so, Black explains, was by using the unlikeliest of platforms for a photographer who developed his visual identity at a regional newspaper where black-and-white fiber paper prints were the norm.

There’s no doubt that Black is an unconventional choice for Instagram Photographer of the Year. For one thing, he doesn’t always uses an iPhone to shoot the images he posts on his feed – “It’s a mixture of iPhone and a Sony RX 100 camera,” he says, “but it seems like the convention is: if you’re upfront about it, then you’re not cheating, so I’ve been upfront about it.” Second, he’s not a prolific user. In the year since he joined the photo-sharing network, he’s posted 73 images – an average of one photograph every five days. That’s because he doesn’t look at Instagram as a daily journal. “I want each image to contribute and advance this portrait that I’m building, and if I feel like the images that I shot don’t meet that standard, then I don’t publish that day. I’ll wait until the next time.”

For him, Instagram’s appeal resides in its mapping feature – which allows photographers to add geographic coordinates to their images. “Maps are fantastic,” says Black. “They [offer] a complementary augmentation of reality. Photography and maps are similar: they’re born out of the same idea of describing a place for another person to engage with. And, they are right there, together, on that same platform. Without this map, I would not be on Instagram.”

The mapping feature might have attracted Black to Instagram, but the newfound freedom and sense of community is what kept him on the photo-sharing app. “I started Geography of Poverty with 20 followers. I had no clue if people would even understand what this was, and [I didn’t know] whether or not people would want to engage with me over these issues.”

To his surprise, Black found that Instagram users valued substance, engaging with the photographer and his work. “That’s reflected in the comments,” he says. “It’s interesting because in my other work, which are long-term photo essays, I’d spend one or two years trying to tell a story, and people wouldn’t have an opportunity to respond. It was top-down. On Instagram, it’s an unfolding, ongoing narrative, and people engage with that in a new way. It’s something they choose to receive. People take it in. People receive the work in a more intimate way. It’s right there, close to them. You don’t get that same reaction from a gallery show or from a book.”

This, he adds, offers “a fantastic opportunity for photographers to have an independent voice. There are hundreds of millions of people on Instagram wanting to engage with photography. If you’re a photographer working on these issues for so long, how can you not want to reach those people?”

Matt Black is a freelance photographer based in California. Follow him on Instagram @mattblack_blackmatt. In 2013, David Guttenfelder was TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year.

Phil Bicker, who edited this photo essay, is a Senior Photo Editor at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME migration

Nearly 5,000 Refugees Were Killed in 2014, Data Shows

Syrian Refugees' Hunger Strike Outside Greek Parliament
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images Syrian refugees wait in tents during a hunger strike outside the parliamentary building in Athens on Nov. 30, 2014

The majority died attempting to cross the Mediterranean

The number of refugees killed while fleeing their home countries more than doubled in the past year, according to data released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which said the toll for 2014 was nearly 5,000

According to the New York Times, citing IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle, about 3,000 of those people drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, up from 707 out of 2,376 last year.

Doyle added that a majority of the refugees were from Iraq, Syria and Palestine, killed in the process of escaping escalating conflicts.

[NYT]

TIME europe

Pope Urges ‘Aged and Weary’ Europe to Accept Migrants and Reject Hunger

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on Nov. 25, 2014.
Remy De La Mauviniere—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014

The Pontiff uses address to the European Parliament to argue that migrants need "acceptance and assistance"

At many times in Europe’s turbulent history religious leaders have turned a blind eye to violence and discrimination. At other times faith itself has set the battleground. This awareness heightened both the strangeness and the poignancy of the Nov. 25 speech by Pope Francis to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Pontiff wasn’t the most obvious person to deliver hard truths to elected politicians about the rising threats to the democracies they serve, or, as head of the Catholic Church, to convey a blast against global corporations that undermine the democratic process by co-opting institutions, as he resonantly expressed it, to “the service of unseen empires.” Yet standing at the lectern at the center of the plenary chamber, peering through wire-rimmed reading glasses at his script, he did these things and more. The leader of a religion that has created its share of fractures made an eloquent plea for the European Union to rediscover its founding principles of “bridging divisions and fostering peace and fellowship.”

Many factors gave urgency to his words. Europe is grappling with soaring unemployment in the midst of global economic instability and the relentless problems of the euro zone. There is a war within its own borders while brutal conflicts on other continents affect the security of European nations and citizens. The interlocking challenges are compounded by voters’ dwindling trust in the political classes. In speaking to members of these classes, the Pope aimed, he said, “as a pastor to deliver a message of hope” to “a Europe that gives the impression of feeling aged and weary.” A glance around the chamber — built as a hemicycle to encourage members of the Parliament from different political groupings to see each other not as opponents but colleagues — reinforced just how timely that papal message was and the extent to which politicians have become, like the Catholic Church in its darker periods, part of the problem as well as its solution.

Pope Francis emphasized the centrality of human dignity and the equal value of every life. He did so to an assembly of 751 MEPs and other European officials that severely underrepresents the diversity of European populations — only 36.75% of lawmakers are women and only about 5% are from ethnic minorities — while substantially representing views that the Pope singled out for criticism. “One of the most common diseases in Europe, if you ask me, today is the loneliness of those who have no connection to others,” he said. This phenomenon could be observed among the isolated old and the alienated young, the poor and “in the lost gaze of the migrants who have come here in search of a better future.”

“Unity doesn’t mean uniformity,” the guest speaker told an audience overwhelmingly composed of middle-aged white men in suits. “In point of fact all real unity draws from the diversities that make it up.” To that audience he set out a list of priorities. It was, he ventured, “intolerable that people are dying each day of hunger while tons of food are thrown away each day from our tables.” He won a round of applause with a call “to promote policies that create employment but above all it is time to restore dignity to work by restoring proper working conditions.” He also highlighted Europe’s failure to achieve “a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. The boats landing daily on Europe’s shores are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”

Listening to him were members of mainstream parties who have contributed to that failure and representatives of fringe parties — now achieving such electoral success that they may not for much longer remain on the fringes — who are arguing for the dissolution of the European Union and the turning away of migrants. It seems unlikely that members of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), or France’s hard-right National Front party will have been swayed by his words any more than Ian Paisley, at the time the apparently implacable voice of Northern Irish Protestant loyalism, could be persuaded to give a fair hearing to Pope John Paul II’s 1988 speech to the European Parliament, the last such address by a Pontiff to the body until Francis took the floor.

Eventually, however, Paisley did learn to stop bellowing and to prize peace above division, at least to some extent. European history is full of such encouraging examples alongside its gloomier lessons. Pope Francis reminded Europe of its capacity for good. In so doing, he continues to reassert the capacity of his office to do the same.

MONEY Millennials

10 Places Millennials Are Moving For Bigger Paychecks

140918_CAR_MillennialsMove_NewOrleans
John Coletti—Getty Images With 5.1% unemployment and low-priced homes, New Orleans is a top town for millennials.

Over the past five years, Gen Yers have decamped for some surprisingly pricey cities in search of a higher-paying job.

Millennials are on the hunt for high-paying jobs, and they’re moving to some unexpected places to find them, according to a new report out today.

Bruised by the rough post-recession job market, Gen-Yers are moving from lower-cost cities to places with a higher cost of living but more plentiful and lucrative jobs, a RealtyTrac analysis of Census data from 2007 through 2013 found.

“Millennials are attracted to markets with good job prospects and low unemployment, but that tend to have higher rental rates and high home-price appreciation,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “It’s a tradeoff.”

In the 10 U.S. counties with the biggest increase in millennials, the average unemployment rate is 5.2%, well below the national average of 6.1%. The average household income is $62,496, vs. $51,058 nationally. The median home price is $406,800 (nearly double the U.S. median of $222,900), while a three-bedroom apartment rents for $1,619 a month on average, just over the national average of $1,550.

Riding the robust job market in the D.C. area, two counties in Northern Virginia with unemployment rates below 3.7% top the list. But not all places that the 69-million-strong millennial generation are flocking to are expensive. New Orleans, where the median home price is $140,000, edged out San Francisco, where tech jobs may be plentiful but the median home price is nearly $1 million.

New Orleans, where the unemployment rate is 5.1%, is a transportation center with one of the busiest and largest ports in the world, as well as tons of jobs related to the local oil refineries. Denver, Nashville, and Portland, Ore., all top 10 areas, offer median home prices below $300,000 and a diversity of jobs in technology, health care, and education.

Perhaps the most surprising millennial magnet: Clarksville, Tenn, the fifth largest city in the state behind Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Forty five miles north of Nashville, it benefits from spillover from that city’s strong job market, but Clarksville also has its own industrial base, plus nearby Ft. Campbell and Austin Peay State University. The unemployment rate: 4.7%.

Here are RealtyTrac’s top 10 destinations for millennials on the move:

Rank County State Metro Area % Increase in Millennial Population, 2007-2013 Milennials % of Total Population, 2013 Median Home Price, April 2014 Average Monthly Apartment Rent (3 beds), 2014
1 Arlington County Va. Washington, DC 82% 39% $505,000 $1,996
2 Alexandria City Va. Washington, DC 81% 34% $465,000 $1,966
3 Orleans Parish La. New Orleans 71% 30% $140,000 $1,190
4 San Francisco County Calif. San Francisco 68% 32% $950,000 $2,657
5 Denver County Colo. Denver 57% 33% $270,000 $1,409
6 Montgomery County Tenn. Clarksville 46% 31% $128,000 $1,016
7 Hudson County N.J. New York 44% 31% $330,000 $1,643
8 New York County N.Y. New York 43% 32% $850,000 $1,852
9 Multnomah County Ore. Portland 41% 28% $270,000 $1,359
10 Davidson County Tenn. Nashville 37% 29% $160,000 $1,131
TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 20

1. Smart labels that monitor food can reduce food-related illness and waste.

By Adrienne LeFrance in the Atlantic

2. With a “Right to Work” law that lets refugees earn a living, Uganda avoids the pitfalls of wartime migration. Other countries can too.

By Gregory Warner in National Public Radio

3. Integrate the protests: Why Ferguson needs a “Freedom Summer.”

By Jay Caspian Kang in the New Yorker

4. To deter Putin and defuse the crisis in Ukraine, policymakers must be creative, strategic and collaborative.

By David Ignatius in the Washington Post

5. Extra ISP fees for companies like Netflix only stifle Internet innovation.

By Reed Hastings in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME U.S.

How LeBron James Is Just Like Us

Miami Heat
Miami Herald—MCT via Getty Images Miami Heat's LeBron James talks with the media during a press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on June 17, 2014, in Miami.

The NBA player faced that excruciating tension that comes with modern mobility: choosing between home and opportunity.

Every schoolchild in America should have to read LeBron James’ marvelously hokey essay in Sports Illustrated explaining why he’s going home to northeast Ohio. Before that, of course, they should watch a brief clip of 2010’s infamous The Decision special on ESPN. Four years ago this month, the NBA superstar announced he was leaving Cleveland and “taking [his] talents to South Beach” where he thought he would have the best “opportunity” to win championships.

In one simple, 6’8” lesson, attentive students would grasp a fundamental tension that lies at the core of American history and culture: the conflict between the comfort of home and the lure of one’s dreams.

We Americans still like to think of our country as full of new beginnings, what sociologist Philip Slater once called “a culture of becoming.” Our uniqueness, as Slater put it, has always been “in our aptitude for change and our willingness to engage in continual self-creation.”

But a country that prides itself on its mobility—geographic, economic and otherwise—is, by definition, built on a foundation of painful separations, discarded identities and homesickness.

When James left Cleveland to win championships elsewhere, he was labeled a shallow, narcissistic ingrate who was turning his back on the people who had raised and nurtured him. Much of the country seemed to agree. But in his letter explaining why he’s returning to Cleveland, James took great pains to declare that home and family were more important to him now than professional success. He mused about the importance of raising his family in his hometown of Akron, 40 minutes south of Cleveland. “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” he wrote.

I suppose all cultures sanctify the home, but Americans need to add that extra dose of schmaltz. If James’ experience tells us anything, it’s that—myths aside—following your dreams always has come at personal cost.

In our cultural imagination, “home sweet home” is where our genuine selves reside. Once we venture beyond its radius, beyond the roles ascribed to us by birth, we risk being accused of trying to be something that we’re not. We commonly employ terms like “wannabe,” “poseur,” “social climber,” and “sellout” to keep people in their place.

It turns out that the very concept of an authentic self is a product of modern mobility.

The idea emerged in Europe in the 16th Century with the end of feudalism and the emergence of a capitalist economy. Suddenly it became possible for more and more people to leave the place and class in which they were born. In new urban environments with mixed populations, people were no longer sure where they belonged in society or how they should relate to their neighbors. “The pleasures and possibilities of social mobility,” Boston University anthropologist Charles Lindholm has written, “coincided with potentials for guile and deceit.” In a world where former inferiors could pretend to outrank you, you put a premium on people’s ability to honestly declare who they really were.

For the longest time, Mexicans who chose to remain in their home country viewed emigrants to the U.S. with a mixture of admiration, resentment and envy. They used a derogatory term for their U.S.-born cousins that meant something like “watered-down Mexican” and suggested these Americanized relatives had cashed in their culture for material possessions.

In her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson writes of the pressure many black migrants to the North felt when they made return visits to their family and friends who remained in the South. Her own mother worried about appearances as she drove back to her hometown of Rome, Georgia, in her brand-new 1956 Pontiac. “No migrant could, none would dare let on that their new life was anything less than perfect,” she wrote. “They had to prove that their decision to go north was the superior and right thing to do.”

If the expectations and resentment of others weren’t enough, those who’ve gone off to seek better lives have always been susceptible to the scourge of loneliness. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, American doctors widely acknowledged and took homesickness seriously, according to Weber State University historian Susan G. Matt. Newspapers published the tragic stories—and sometimes letters—of migrants who suffered from nostalgia, as homesickness was then called. In 1887, a 42-year-old Irish priest, J.M. McHale, reportedly fell ill not long after arriving in New York. “I cannot eat; my heart is breaking. … I am homesick,” he is quoted as saying. “My dear country, I will never set foot on your green shores again. Oh my mother how I long to see you.” Shortly after this proclamation, he lost consciousness and died. Nostalgia was listed as the cause of death.

Throughout the 20th Century, scholars documented the psychological pressures of socioeconomic mobility. In 1956, University of Chicago sociologist Peter M. Blau concluded that the upwardly mobile can suffer from having to “choose between abandoning hope of translating his occupational success into social acceptance” by his new peer group and “sacrificing valued social ties and customs” of the peers he grew up with. In 1973, University of North Dakota sociologist Alfred M. Mirande found that “upwardly mobile persons are relatively isolated from kin and friends, while downwardly mobile person have the highest level of kinship participation and are not isolated from friends.”

Today, despite the triumph of global capitalism, an individual’s origins are still seen as the source of their authentic selves while their aspirational selves are vulnerable to accusations of phoniness.

The Pew Research Center’s 2008 study on American mobility found that most Americans have moved to a new community at least once. Jobs and business opportunities are the most frequently cited reasons people give for moving today. By contrast, three-quarters of those who have remained in their hometowns their entire lives cite the pull of family ties as the main reason for staying put.

LeBron James, while a whole lot wealthier than the rest of us, faced the same dilemma as millions of Americans, past and present. That excruciating tension between the tug of home and the allure of opportunity has been central to so many family dramas and the source of so much resentment and guilt. After more than two centuries of mobility, maybe what all Americans need are those t-shirts you see fans wearing in Cleveland. You know, the ones that say “Forgiven.”

Gregory Rodriguez is publisher of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Imperfect Union column. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com