SOCIAL ISSUES IN SEAFOOD
HUMAN AND LABOR RIGHTS
& INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORKS
A robust international framework for human and labor rights exists. The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses have an obligation and responsibility to uphold and protect workers in their supply chains from exploitation.
Additional frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and a variety of ILO Conventions pertaining to workers’ rights serve as foundational building blocks to help companies understand the international expectations and standards on these issues.
The Core ILO Conventions:
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has established eight fundamental conventions addressing the fundamental principles and rights at work, to set out international labor standards. These conventions set minimum standards for which ratifying countries commit to incorporate into national law. Companies’ should develop codes of conduct based on the provisions of these conventions and other international guidelines.
Companies should be aware of the conventions and frameworks below that establish the internationally recognized human and labor rights of workers in supply chains.
Click here to learn more about these international conventions and guidelines
Other important frameworks to consider:
Click here to learn more about ASEAN and sub-regional
national policy and regulations
DEFINING SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE SEAFOOD:
THE MONTEREY FRAMEWORK
Socially responsible seafood expands beyond protecting human and labor rights to address the social and economic well-being of all people in supply chains. Company activities not only impact the immediate health of seafood workers but can affect surrounding communities.
While this website focuses on providing guidance and tools to address human and labor rights issues (pillar 1), we strongly recommend companies work to progress all three pillars of The Monterey Framework for Social Responsibility (below). To support movement in pillars 2 and 3, we provide links to resources, tools, and organizations relevant to understanding issues of equity, equality, and food and livelihood security in seafood below.
The Monterey Framework incorporates the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries (VGSSF) as guidance.
The Social Responsibility Toolkit for the Seafood Sector was developed from both the Monterey Framework and the Framework for Social Responsibility in the Seafood Sector. The toolkit is useful as a diagnostic or rapid assessment tool – to assess risk of social issues, to identify areas in need of improvement, and to inform the development of a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) workplan that includes a social element.
Conservation International: A Sea of Change for Seafood
GLOBAL INVESTIGATIONS INTO ABUSES
These videos captured by the Environmental Justice Foundation, Greenpeace International, and Human Rights Watch depict some of the worst cases of human and labor rights abuses found in seafood supply chains.
Additional investigative reporting
The Guardian: A year-long investigation into the Irish prawn and whitefish sector confirmed that labor abuses occur outside of Southeast Asian fishing industries. The investigation uncovered undocumented Ghanaian, Filipino, Egyptian and Indian fishermen manning boats in ports from Cork to Galway (Lawrence et al. 2015).
Associated Press: A six-month AP investigation into Hawaii’s fishing fleet uncovered unfair labor practices and some instances of human trafficking due to a legal loophole excluding certain fishing vessels from federal law (Mendoza and Mason 2016). 5
Associated Press: In the fall of 2016, AP reported that despite reports of improvement, Thailand fell short in its efforts to compensate victims of slavery and shift shrimp processing from peeling sheds to their own facilities (Mendoza 2016).
COMPANY OBLIGATIONS: LEGALITY AND COMPLIANCE
More than ever, companies are being required to comply with emerging trade laws and legislation. These increasing regulatory obligations require action on human and labor rights issues in supply chains and extend beyond the United States to Europe and Australia.
Disclosure acts require companies to disclose efforts they are taking to address forced and trafficked labor. In the United States, enforcement acts establish the right for Customs and Border Protection to deny entry of goods produced by forced labor.
Click on the individual act, law, or directive to learn more.
Learn more about the human trafficking and slavery regulatory environment
Assent Compliance: Human Trafficking and Slavery Legislation: A Scoping Guide
LINKING Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) FISHING TO
HUMAN AND LABOR RIGHTS ABUSES
Overfishing and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing have resulted in diminishing fish stocks and led to a decrease in the return on investment for fishing companies and vessel captains.
Depleted resources in nearshore waters force vessels to go further out to sea and for longer periods of time to fill their catch quota, increasing fuel and vessel maintenance costs. These circumstances, combined with a high global demand for seafood, increase incentives for overfishing and other illegal fishing practices.
In order to maintain profits, fishing companies may seek to reduce the operating costs within their control such as reducing crew sizes, relying on inexpensive migrant labor, increasing work hours, and ignoring important health and safety measures. Undocumented steps in supply chains pose particular areas of high risk due to lack of transparency. For example, in 2015 an Associated Press investigation found shrimp peeling sheds without adequate supply chain oversight were operating illegally and using trafficked laborers.
One challenge facing government institutions and the seafood industry today is that the true extent of illegal activity and human or labor rights violations are difficult to quantify because these practices may be intentionally hidden. The practice of unauthorized transshipment, the lack of adequate fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS) systems, and the lack of transparency of vessel owners and vessel histories has further facilitated an environment where human rights and environmental violations can occur with impunity.
DEFINITIONS & EXPLANATIONS OF HUMAN AND LABOR RIGHTS ABUSES
This is a general term often used when referring to holding a person in compelled service, including trafficking, forced labor, involuntary servitude, and bonded labor (US DOS 2013).
The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) website defines ‘child labor’ as “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” This includes work that is “mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them the opportunity to attend school.” The ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (No. 182) considers a ‘child’ to be any person under the age of eighteen (ILO 1999).
Although it is difficult to determine the exact number of child laborers employed specifically in the seafood industry, case studies and surveys suggest it is pervasive, both in number and geographic scope (FAO and ILO 2013).
Human trafficking (Trafficking in persons)
Human trafficking, or trafficking in persons, occurs in a variety of sectors, include seafood. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines trafficking in persons as control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (UNODC 2004). Trafficking victims can include individuals born into servitude, exploited in their hometown, or smuggled to the exploitative situation as well as individuals who previously agreed to work for a trafficker or participated in a crime as a result of being trafficked (USDOS 2013). At the core of this issue is the traffickers’ intention to exploit or enslave another human being, the coercive, underhanded practices they engage in to do so, and the purpose behind the exploitation (UNODC 2004).
Debt bondage (bonded labor)
The United Nations (UN) states that “people enter the status or condition of debt bondage when their labor...is demanded as a repayment of a loan or of money given in advance, and the value of their labor is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length of the service is not limited and/or the nature of the service is not defined” (UN 2016). As a result, the value of a bonded laborer’s efforts can at times exceed the original amount of money owed.
Forced or compulsory labor includes all work or service which is extracted from any person under the threat of any penalty and which a person has not offered voluntarily (ILO 1932). The definition of forced labor encompasses traditional forms of forced labor, such as slavery, as well as new forms of forced labor that have emerged in recent decades, such as human trafficking (ILO 2012). Once a person’s labor is exploited by such means, the person’s prior consent to work for an employer is legally irrelevant: the employer is a trafficker and the employee a trafficking victim (USDOS 2017).
In informal recruitment systems, during the recruitment process, foreign migrant workers may begin to accrue debts to obtain registration documents, be required to pay excessive security deposits or undisclosed fees to brokers and recruitment sub-agents to secure employment, or be required to pay for pre-employment travel, food, and shelter costs. Even before they start employment, these debts can make workers vulnerable to a range of coercion, control, and abuse by employers, producing the circumstances that lead to forced labor and debt bondage.
In addition, workers may be deceived as to the type, location, or conditions of their employment.
Physical and psychological abuse
Workers may experience egregious abuses such as physical and psychological abuse at sea, violent working conditions, and verbal abuse including derogatory and discriminatory language. Workers may experience or witness physical abuse and even murder at sea, and may lack appropriate health care.
Restricted freedom of movement
Employers or brokers may take possession of workers identification documents, significantly restricting their freedom of movement and leading to the possibility of imprisonment, deportation, torture, or death if workers attempt to escape. In some cases, workers may even be locked up after disembarkation. Workers lacking documents may not exercise basic rights to health care due to fear of reprisal
Overwork and illegally low wages
Workers can be forced to work excessive hours, sometimes up to 20 hours per day, and experience a delay or withholding of wage payment, wages below the legal minimum wage, and salary deductions. The lack of fair wages can keep workers in a cycle of debt bondage.
Absence of freedom of association and collective bargaining
Workers may be denied the right to join a to establish or join a trade union and to bargain collectively. The International Labor Rights Foundation states: “Workers around the world face systemic barriers to organizing, including egregious acts of violence and intimidation. Companies and governments fire workers who attempt to organize, close or relocate factories and farms to eliminate union presence, criminalize activists, and hire migrants and children as replacements. Thousands of workers over the past decade have been arrested, harassed, and even killed for defending this internationally recognized freedom.”