Add a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service to the impressive list of awards won by the AP team that uncovered how seafood sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants had been produced by slaves.
The stellar reporting was the work of longtime News Media Guild member Martha Mendoza, a senior journalist now in the AP’s San Jose, California, bureau, Robin McDowell, now in the Minneapolis bureau, and overseas colleagues Margie Mason and Esther Htusan.
“Seafood from Slaves” was the result of a sweeping 18-month investigation that uncovered the use of slave labor in the $7 billion-a-year Thai seafood industry, which supplies major U.S. supermarkets, restaurants, and food suppliers, including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Sysco, Nestle, Whole Foods, and Red Lobster.
The investigation led to the freeing of more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen from Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, the jailing of perpetrators, congressional hearings and the proposal of new laws. The U.S. State Department used the series as part of its decision to give Thailand the lowest rating for human trafficking and has discussed the findings during diplomatic talks.
“We set out to do two things that hadn’t been done before,” Medoza said earlier this year, explaining that the issue was an open secret in Southeast Asia, but hadn’t gotten much attention. “One was to find people currently working as slaves, to put an end to the suggestions that the problem was behind us. The second thing was to specifically track the supply chain to the major retailers, so they could no longer disassociate themselves from the labor abuse.”
PULITZER PRIZE MOST PRESTIGIOUS OF MANY FOR SERIES
The Pulitzer is the latest, and most prestigious, in a string of kudos that the series garnered this year.
The team also took home a George Polk Award; an IRE Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors; the Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Journalism; the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center; the USC Annenberg 2016 Selden Ring Award and more, including the University of Wisconsin’s Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, named for the former AP staffer and Guild member who died in 2012 while reporting in Syria for the New York Times.
Winning the awards will bring more attention to the issue, Mendoza said. “The enslaved people were risking their lives when they spoke to us. Yet they told their stories with courage and integrity. They deserve the recognition.”
It’s the second Pulitzer for Mendoza, who joined the Guild when she was hired in 1995.
She also won in 2000, for her work as part of the team that revealed the decades-old secret of how American soldiers early in the Korean War killed hundreds of Korean civilians in a massacre at the No Gun Ri Bridge. That team also included Guild member Randy Herschaft, retired member Charles Hanley and correspondent Sang-Hun Choe.