Education as a Lever of Change

Created on Thursday, 10 December 2020
Seafood workers
Credit: Hanoi Photography –

Imagine a future where all seafood workers are paid fairly and feel safe and empowered going to work; a future where human and labor rights are upheld on board fishing vessels and in global processing facilities. Envision coastal communities around the world thriving as a result of well-managed fisheries and aquaculture operations, strong governance, and international cooperation. Consider a future where consumers have peace of mind, knowing that the fish at their local fish market or grocery store supports environmentally and socially responsible practices. Finally, imagine that your seafood company is recognized and celebrated as one of the many businesses that is responsible for building a better future in seafood.

Sounds like a world we would want to live in, right? 

In order for this vision to become a reality, all players within the seafood sector must address the root causes of human rights and labor abuses to put an end to the exploitation of people in seafood.

At its core, “corporate responsibility is concerned with the relationships that a company maintains with its shareholders, clients, suppliers, creditors and employees, as well as with the communities in which it operates,” as defined by the United Nations. While there are a number of issues to focus on, the areas that businesses are commonly responsible for addressing include living wages; child labor; responsible recruitment; physical, sexual, and psychological abuse; and worker health and safety. These issues are so varied by commodity, geography, resources, etc., that it can be challenging to create a solution that works for all industries. However, many civil society organizations and industry groups that work to assist businesses in social and ecological responsibility use a common tool: education for both employers and employees. 

FishWise recently conducted an analysis to understand the social responsibility efforts organizations working within cocoa, coffee, palm, minerals, cotton, and apparel are making. The detailed examination identified the priorities across each commodity and the goals achieved through addressing each issue. The organizations that were studied included multi-commodity NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance, pre-competitive industry groups such as the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, and commodity-specific bodies including the Alliance for Responsible Mining. Aggregating information from websites, impact reports, and frameworks, the project captured the efforts and successes of these organizations, with the intent of applying findings to the seafood industry.  

While the training looked different for each commodity, the key takeaway was that knowledge is power. By investing in education for both companies and employees, seafood businesses can play an essential role in addressing human rights and labor abuses. Below are three case studies from other industries that demonstrate the value of including education in the journey towards socially responsible practices. 

Garment Industry:

BetterWork approached garment workers in Jordan with surveys on their working conditions. They interviewed workers before and after a brief training on workplace abuse and found that after the training, workers were able to more accurately identify instances of verbal and sexual abuse in their day-to-day work. 

Cocoa Industry: 

The International Cocoa Initiative implemented specialized training for community leaders, schools, and cocoa farm owners, to highlight the importance of child protection and education. These educational efforts, combined with monitoring and remediation programs, have helped decrease instances of child labor on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. 

Coffee Industry:

For agricultural commodities like coffee, education for companies focused on the economics of agriculture and methods to improve farm productivity and sustainability. While production and sustainability are not explicitly related to human and labor rights, the result of increased efficiency and long term sustainability directly translated to market value and profit. The financial gains, in theory, then flow back to farm owners who can then afford to pay their workers living wages and improve overall livelihoods, demonstrating how the intersection of social and environmental creates solutions for people and the planet. The Rainforest Alliance found that coffee smallholders in Honduras that undertook sustainability and agroeconomic trainings for certification were paid higher prices for their coffee. This encouraged those farmers to pay their workers higher wages and further invest in more sustainable practices.

It’s important to note that educational resources not only focused on farming techniques, but also on how to avoid exploitative practices within the industry. Coaching employers to guidelines of human and labor rights, and explaining what abuses may look like in the workplace, can help reveal common operations that employers may not have known to be harmful. Additionally, educating workers on what exploitation may look or feel like empowers them to recognize abuses and seek remediation. 

Rather than looking at temporary solutions or stopgap measures with short term returns, educational programs allow companies to get to the root of social responsibility issues and create long term impacts.

To support seafood companies in their social responsibility journey, FishWise is developing new learning modules and educational tools that will be released in the re-launch of the Roadmap for Improving Seafood Ethics (RISE) website in spring 2021. These resources will cover a variety of topics to help companies understand foundational issues in social responsibility, as well as provide guidance to take action in improving supply chains. Our team looks forward to sharing this work with the seafood community toward greater social responsibility in the global supply chains. Email to receive updates on this work.