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Working towards decent work in the fisheries sector in Asia

Photo: ©FAO/Goncalves
Seafood products are among the widely traded food commodities – totaling around 150 billion USD annually.

A regional technical seminar aimed at building a stronger fisheries industry that promotes decent work and human rights in the sector opens today in Manila, Philippines.

The technical seminar, organized by FAO and the Apostleship of the Sea, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO),  meets 21-22 March in the Filipino capital, with the participation of experts and stakeholders from fisheries, labour and port administrations as well as from industry, civil society organizations and unions from ten Asian countries.

The meeting is organized with the support of the Coalition of Organizations and Ministries Promoting the Abolition of Slavery at Sea (COMPASS) and the International Transport Federation (ITF).

Unfortunately, human rights and labour abuses, ranging from slavery to poor working conditions, have increasingly been front-page news in the mass media in recent years. Even as efforts are being made to improve the environmental sustainability of the seafood products reaching the plates of the consumers, those same consumers are demanding assurances that those products have been harvested not only in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, but also ensuring decent working conditions and human rights for all workers along the seafood value chain.

Photo: ©FAO
The fisheries sector will have to tackle serious concerns about abuses in the sector, including poor working conditions and child labour.

Ensuring decent work for fisheries workers along the entire value chain from capture or aquaculture through post-harvest processing before a product is purchased by the final consumer will require a high level of commitment and coordination among the various partners. As an important fisheries and aquaculture producing and exporting region, fisheries and aquaculture in Asia will need to be able to meet and overcome these challenges, and technical seminars such as the one being held this week are helping stakeholders to collaborate on this crucial issue.

This technical seminar, focusing on the issues in the region, follows earlier collaboration between the three UN organizations, the Apostleship of the Sea and numerous member countries, unions, private sector and civil society organizations, emerging from discussions such as the Vigo dialogue on decent work in the fisheries sector and an event held alongside the Holy See on World Fisheries Day 2016 (21 November 2016).

Although there are numerous challenges to improving work conditions in the sector, and eliminating instances of labour abuse, forced labour and child labour, there are, for the first time, numerous instruments in place that provide support to these efforts, including the Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (P029) and the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188), which recently went into effect and specifically addresses workers in the fisheries industry. Additionally, FAO's Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing is aimed at combating illegal fishing around the world, and also targets the labour abuses or slave labour that too often accompany these illicit fishing activities.

Speaking about this week's seminar, FAO's Felix Marttin noted "The level of engagement on this issue is encouraging, and we want to keep up this positive momentum and collaboration between the various partners. It is important to follow up on this work at a regional level, and it's important to us to have stakeholders from governments, seafood industry, fisherfolk organizations and unions from ten different Asian countries with us in the Philippines to discuss concrete next steps to achieving decent work in the sector throughout Asia."

We'll be following the event closely, and tweeting out discussions under the hashtag #decentwork.

Photo:©FAO/Crespi
Ensuring decent work for fisheries workers along the entire value chain from capture or aquaculture through post-harvest processing before a product is purchased by the final consumer will require a high level of commitment and coordination among the various partners.
Photo:©FAO
Small-scale fisheries communities like this one in India are important workers in the sector, but often have fewer protections or access rights.
Fisheries and aquaculture production and exports are extremely important throughout Asia, and this regional collaboration on decent work is a first, important step towards improving labour conditions in the sector.

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