Blue Growth blog

Exploring solutions to promote decent work in fisheries and aquaculture

Increasingly, seafood consumers want a guarantee that the fish on their plate was harvested not only in an environmentally sustainable manner, but in a manner consistent with fair labour practices.

Each year in October, FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture partners with Conxemar, an important Spanish seafood industry association, and the region of Galicia, Spain for its annual appointment on fisheries issues.

The event coincides with Conxemar’s annual Seafood Expo, which, this year, attracted over 30,000 visitors. On 3 October,  377 government representatives and seafood professionals were present for the FAO-Conxemar World Congress on Cephapolods. You can see our post from  this event here. Last year, the World Congress marked the 20th anniversary of FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Read more about this event in our earlier post.

In addition to the World Congress on Cephapolods this year, FAO hosted the Vigo Dialogue on Decent Work in Fisheries and Aquaculture on 4 October, the opening day of the Seafood Expo. During the past two years of the FAO-Conxemar Congress, side events dedicated to decent work in the seafood sector have been held and have generated growing interest in the issue. However, this was the first time the Vigo Dialogue dedicated an entire day to this important topic on labour issues and working conditions of fishworkers in capture fisheries, aquaculture, fish processing and distribution.

The issue of decent work in the seafood sector has been receiving increasing media attention in recent years, as more frequent instances of labour abuses in the industry are coming to light. As a result of this increasing attention, the seafood industry and retailers are feeling growing pressure from consumers to not only guarantee the environmental sustainability of the fish products reaching those consumer plates, but to guarantee that the social and labour conditions of the workers who have harvested and processed that fish have been protected by fair labour standards and decent work.

The movement for more accountability is admirable, but the challenges are numerous for a product with a seafood value chain that involves many stakeholders and interests and continues to grow longer, more international and increasingly complex.

The fish reaching your plate may have been fished in one country, processed in a second country and sold in a  third. Although guaranteeing the social sustainability of all workers along the seafood value presents various challenges, one thing is clear. Finding  sustainable and acceptable solutions will require a strong commitment by and collaboration between the various players. This includes governments, international organizations, the seafood industry, retailers, labour unions, civil society organizations and fisherfolk organizations.

If the Vigo Dialogue on Decent Work in Fisheries and Aquaculture is any indication, there is enormous good will from all parties to work productively together.

Vigo, Spain our Galician coastal host city for an annual, global fisheries appointment.
FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Director Manuel Barange opens the Vigo Dialogue on decent Work in Fisheries and Aquaculture: “Dialogue is great, but action is better. It’s time for action.”
These fishermen in the Republic of Georgia spend long hours fishing Black Sea anchovies.
Participants in the day-long Vigo Dialogue event were active and shared excellent ideas for collaboration. Any work on decent work in the seafood sector will require intense cooperation across various players.
Indonesia’s Anang Noegroho, Director of Investment Development in the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, discusses work in his country in eliminating IUU fishing, which often includes instances of forced labour.
These women in Côte d’Ivoire spend day after day breathing in harmful smoke as they smoke fish for local markets. Safer oven technologies are available, but they require investment.
FAO’s Uwe Barg kept the day’s sessions moving along and ensured there was time for discussion and an exchange of ideas among participants.

Some seventy-five participants took part in the one-day Vigo event, presenting current conditions, challenges, perceptions, processes and best practices from the perspective of the seafood industry, civil society and fishworkers’ unions, governments, international and intergovernmental organizations (including FAO and  the International Labor Organization), certification schemes, and various initiatives addressing labour issues and due diligence along seafood value chains.

The Vigo Dialogue was opened by FAO’s Manuel Barange, Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, who reminded participants that aspects of decent work in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors are embedded in a range of international instruments such as the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, and ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention and Forced Labour Protocol, which all need to be fully implemented.  He noted that the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is inextricably linked to unfair labour practices, and reminded participants that the FAO Port State Measures Agreement that entered into force this past June  is the first international legally-binding treaty designed to eliminate IUU fishing. He concluded his remarks stating “Dialogue is great, but action is better. When it comes to working together to guarantee decent work for all the men and women working at all stages along the seafood supply chain, it’s time for action.”

Participants repeated the need to ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s  Convention 188 that addresses work in fisheries, and urged close collaboration between governments, the ILO and FAO, civil society organizations, unions and the industry and retailers.

An issue that emerged frequently is that the issue of ensuring decent work and fair labour conditions in the fish business is not only relevant to developing countries. As recent media stories have illustrated, incidences of labour abuse in the seafood value chain occur in both developed and developing countries, and international collaboration will be required to reverse this.

The seafood industry presented initiatives underway to improve social and labour standards along the value chain, but expressed the importance of working closely together for a unified and more effective approach. In addition to a number of industry associations, representatives of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations (ICFA), Europêche, the association of national organizations of fishing enterprises in the European Union,  and The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) presented their views and called for better enforcement of existing international and national legislation as well as for stronger commitments by all actors in the seafood supply chains.

Fishworkers’ unions such as the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) presented examples of labour abuses in the seafood industry . They spanned incidents of physical abuse, nonpayment for work, debt bondage, human trafficking, violence, and child labour. Labour union representatives felt they had a key role to play in helping to put pressure on the industry to make the voices of the workers heard in order to enact change. Representatives felt that things are changing, but not quickly enough. All urged the importance of the ratification of ILO Convention 188, the application of the ILO core labour standards and increased collaboration and leadership on this issue by ILO and FAO, alongside a wide range of partners. There was a strong call for more effective and coordinated multi-agency labour inspections on board fishing vessels as well as for the development of an international binding instrument providing for specific labour standards for the seafood sector, all along the seafood supply chain.

Countries presented the challenges they face to achieving decent work in the sector, and what is being done to overcoming these challenges.

For Senegal, fisheries is an extremely important sector both for national food security and livelihoods and as a source of export revenue. Senegal has not yet adopted ILO Convention 188, but, since 2008,  has been working closely with ILO and FAO to devise national Fisheries Plans of Action. As part of this process, the government is working with multiple internal stakeholders to initiate an inclusive dialogue designed to improve fisheries management and associated labour governance measures.

Mr. Anang Noegroho, Director of Investment Development in the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia spoke about his country’s recent commitment to combating IUU fishing along its extensive coastline. Its work in this area has illustrated that vessels involved in IUU fishing are often involved in labour abuse of their crews, including forced labor and slavery. Since beginning their efforts to combat IUU fishing, 1 011 victims of trafficking have been released from the vessels on which they were forcibly held. 

Fisheries and aquaculture is a sector vital for the employment and livelihoods of 4 million people in Viet Nam.  Mr. Manh Cuong Duan of Viet Nam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development presented on its work to improve its Aquaculture and to promote policies that would better regulate and improve socio-economic and labour conditions of the aquaculture sector.

Ms Praulai Nootmorn, Department of Fisheries,  presented Thailand’s Fisheries Ministry priorities: combating IUU fishing, improving fisheries management and reversing the effects of overfishing.  A new Royal ordinance has been passed to protect the welfare of seamen and to prevent all forms of labour abuses in the fisheries sector. Thailand has been working closely with the ILO on these issues, and is working towards ratification of ILO Convention 188.

The International Labor Organization cited the example of Thailand as one in which concerns were raised about labor issues in the sector. Organizations such as the ILO, FAO and other partnerships then worked with the government to begin addressing these concerns in a systematic manner. 

One of these partnerships, the Shrimp Task Force, a multistakeholder platform formed in 2014 between Thailand, NGOs and the US and EU retailers addressed some of this work to drive measurable social and environmental changes in Thailand’s shrimp sector. Ms Shirlene Anthonysamy, INFOFISH’s Director, informed participants that decent work issues had been debated during the 2015 Pacific Tuna Forum and that social accountability standards in the tuna supply chain had been discussed in recent INFOFISH magazine issues. 

A number of international initiatives active in auditing, certification and labellling, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, GlobalGAP, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, the Seafood Stewardship Index and the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative presented ongoing and planned efforts on including or enhancing social and labour criteria and standards in their programmes.

Participants also discussed about important ongoing processes such as the ILO’s work on decent work in global supply chains,as well as the promotion of international human rights due diligence instruments such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD/FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains.

It was recognized that buyers will increasingly demand that the seafood industry does apply risk-based due diligence measures throughout seafood supply chains. 

Speaking at the conclusion, FAO’s Uwe Barg noted “I find this level of engagement encouraging. We are working together and moving in the right direction.” ILO and FAO will be discussing this issue further with  interested stakeholders and following up this event with more dialogue and information sharing.

To hear more about the issue of decent work in the seafood sector, listen to Uwe Barg’s interview on the topic with UN Radio and an earlier blog interview on the topic.

You can also read the new FAO Scoping study on decent work and employment in fisheries and aquaculture: Issues and actions for discussion and programming.

Fishing ensures the livelihoods of 10-12% of the world’s population, yet it is one of the most dangerous professions and tends to have fewer regulations than other professions.
Small-scale fishing communities, like this in India, often enjoy little regulation to guarantee decent work and labour practices.
The FAO Globefish booth at the Conxemar Expo. Not surprisingly, the latest issue of SOFIA 2016 disappeared quickly.
The narrow streets of the historic center of Vigo, Spain. FAO enjoys its collaboration each year with Conxemar, the city of Vigo and the Region of Galicia.


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