‘Canning Paradise’ is a 90 minute documentary primarily about the commercial tuna fishing industry being established near the town of Madang in Papua New Guinea, but also more generally about the globalised economy rubbing up against traditional ways of life.
Papua New Guinea recognises traditional land ownership in its Constitution, which is fortunate for traditional villagers as they rarely have formally recognised land titles. This provision makes it difficult for the Government to appropriate land for development. The film also explores the benefit this has had in preventing PNG from becoming a peasant economy.
The village of Madang is a little different because it was formerly a Catholic mission. A court case found that the Catholic Church owned the village’s land and its surroundings, which it on-sold to the Provincial Government in 1991. The Government has decided to open it for development by establishing a so-called Pacific Marine Industrial Zone (PMIZ). This sounds like it is an export processing zone (EPZ) but it isn’t, it’s a title only, no special laws have been passed to exempt companies in the area from normal laws, which is what happens in EPZs.
The Philippino canning company RD Tuna have set up in the area with a number of fishing vessels. Under the deal, the PNG Government receives only 2-8% of the profits in royalties, which amounts to about $50 million. The tuna ends up in one of RD Tuna’s three brands: Diana, Dolly and Dolores.
The PMIZ has numerous issues, for example its rusty vessels do not meet environmental standards which PNG does not have the resources to police effectively.
RD Tuna also mostly employs flown-in Philippino workers rather than locals. Both the company and the Government support the in-house, company-friendly union. When 500 of the Papuan workers went on strike in 2010 over low wages, wage theft and freedom of association, most of them were sooner or later terminated. It seems that the people of Madang are not destined to share in the bounty being extracted right off their shores.
‘Canning Paradise’ is a well made film: not in the sense of being slick, but in the sense of being true to its subject. It conveys the complexity of this issue in depth, resisting the temptation to propose quick solutions. The interviewees were unanimously of the view that a traditional economy has a value even if it can’t be readily expressed in dollars, but beyond that there was no sense at all of a clear way forward. I guess that’s reality: few problems are capable of having straighforward, elegant solutions like you will see proposed in a 4-minute TED talk.
The DVD is available from Ronin Films.
*Postscript: This is the 150th post on fairforall.org. The site recently received it’s 15,000th visit – thanks for your support!
- Where’d that shrimp come from? 13 January 2011
- The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work 25 February 2011 – includes link to a great photo esssay, The Journey of Tuna
- Escalation of Commitment 29 September 2011 – re the OK Tedi mine, also in Papua New Guinea
- $2 an hour to work on an inhospitable mountain peak 27 September 2011 – re the Grasberg mine on the Western, Indonesian, side of New Guinea