The Vatican joins FAO to denounce labour abuses in fishing industry

World Fisheries Day call to support human rights and make fisheries socially sustainable

21 November 2018, Rome - Illegal and inhumane practices in the world's fishing sector must be stamped out and replaced with sustainable ones to support the livelihoods of one of every 10 people on the planet, FAO and the Vatican said today.

"We convey a joint message urging an end to the violation of human rights within the fishing sector, and we call for an end to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said at an event celebrating World Fisheries Day.

Remedies, solutions and international legal instruments such as the FAO Port State Measures Agreement exist to safeguard a sector that offers a wealth of high-value opportunities yet too often hurts the most vulnerable, he added.

"Fish workers are crying out for help ... and we cannot shut our ears and we cannot remain silent," said Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.

Noting frequent reports of forced labor, human trafficking and disappearance at sea, he added: "We see direct links between all these abuses and the use of flags of convenience, IUU fishing, and transnational crime."

The jointly-organized event was held to emphasize that labor rights are human rights and explore ways to coordinate the fight against trafficking and forced labor in the fishing sector.

"Fraudulent recruitment practices, child labor, absence of written agreements, withholding of wages, blacklisting, violence, intimidation and other abusive working conditions" are rife in the sector and undermine the efforts of industry players who respect the rules, said Moussa Oumarou, Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organization.

Protecting rights in the fishing sector

There are several broad fronts along which international efforts to combat labor abuses in the fisheries sector can be coordinated.

An important one is adoption and enforcement of the ILO's Convention 188 on Work In Fishing, which is designed to ensure that more than 38 million people working in the capture fisheries globally benefit from safety and health care, written work agreements, and social security protections. So far it has been ratified by 12 countries, with Namibia and Senegal joining this year.

Another important opportunity is presented by the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, which has entered into force and aims at stamping out IUU fishing, which accounts for substantial share of all fish caught at sea. It gives port authorities strong powers to inspect fishing vessels - often linked of cases of trafficking, labor abuses and slavery - and thus "allows more effective controls to ensure that the rights of crews are not violated," Graziano da Silva said, urging countries that have not yet signed the agreement to do so.

Cardinal Turkson stressed that " the number of governments that have ratified the international instruments is still very low" and urged international agencies to draft a "road map" for broader and faster adoption, saying that "if ratified and fully implemented by all States, they could dramatically change the life of fish workers, of their families, and the environmental status of fisheries resources."

The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, agreed in 1995, has inspired a number of further supporting instruments and guidelines, including the includes the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Small-Scale Fisheries, which have a great potential to strengthen human-rights for small-scale fishing communities.

FAO is also developing guidance on social responsibility in seafood value chains, which will be presented to the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 2020.

"Through international collaboration and the implementation of international agreements, we can end all forms of modern-day slavery in the fisheries sector," Graziano da Silva said. "FAO looks forward to making this a reality."

Blue Hope

In an effort to transform Southern Mediterranean coastal zone communities into engines of stability and growth, FAO is also supporting the Blue Hope Initiative, which has been welcomed by Pope Francis. The initiative particularly aims to bolster small-scale fisheries challenged by climate change, poverty, migration trends, urbanization and other forces.

The new initiative was launched last month in pilot communities in Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey.

Photo: ©FAO/Desirey Minkoh
Fishing off the Congolese coast.