Landmark Fishing and Human Rights Treaty to Enter into Force

Created on Wednesday, 18 January 2017

(Last Updated: January 18th 2017)

Photo credit: FAO

What happened?

On November 16th 2016, Lithuania became the tenth country to ratify the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention 2007, No. 188 (C188), meeting the minimum threshold of ten ratifications needed to enter into force in November 2017. This is a major step in the fight to eliminate human rights abuses at sea as the convention will be the first international treaty in force that specifically addresses the labor conditions of fishermen at sea.

The countries that have ratified C188 at the time of writing are: Angola, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Morocco, Norway, and South Africa.

Why is this important?

Fishermen at sea had previously been exempt from almost all international maritime labor treaties addressing the safety and fair treatment of workers at sea. This has left fishermen vulnerable to egregious human rights abuses by unscrupulous fishing companies, captains, and recruitment agencies. C188 seeks to close this gap by mandating minimum labor standards for all fishermen aboard all fishing vessels flying the flag of nations that have ratified the convention.

The convention includes requirements that support human rights at sea such as: fisher’s work agreement (contract) for all fishermen; minimum rest periods; standards for recruitment (including no fees in recruitment process); regular payment of wages; and minimum living and working conditions. The convention also clearly defines the responsibilities of the captain and vessel owner in ensuring the fair treatment of workers.

To supplement C188, the ILO also created the Work in Fishing Recommendation 2007, No. 199 which provides non-binding guidelines to implement the new requirements.

What next?

Seafood companies and civil society should urge nations with large fishing fleets to ratify the convention. As the convention aims to address many of the concerns raised by fishermen regarding their ethical treatment, it has the potential to significantly improve human rights protections for workers on fishing vessels. Additionally, because of the possible links between illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and egregious human rights abuses at sea, the convention could impact sustainability. By ratifying and/or supporting the treaty, countries and businesses will be sending a signal that they are committed to instilling ethical conduct aboard fishing vessels and sustainable fisheries.

For more information about the International Labor Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, 2007, please contact