The known existence of forced labor and other human rights violations within seafood supply chains is not just a crime and a tragedy, it is the fuel behind the momentum for more focused, international attention and calls for action. Information provided through investigative journalism like The Outlaw Ocean Project’s reporting is important to keep attention on illegal fishing issues and labor conditions in seafood supply chains. The investigative approach taken in their recent reports on distant water squid IUU fishing and forced labor in seafood processing informs and supports efforts within companies and governments to identify, elevate, and improve working conditions in seafood supply chains.
While there is no silver bullet to eliminate these abuses, FishWise is advocating that companies transition from, what is often an exclusive dependence on compliance through standard certifications and audits, to a robust and comprehensive due diligence cycle that starts with commitment and ends with action.
Transparency is essential
Companies need to have visibility into their supply chains, understand where their products are harvested and processed (including traceability to vessels/farms), and engage regularly with their supply chain partners to understand what is happening in their operations. Data sharing with suppliers about sourcing and company practices allows companies to better understand risks, execute proactive supply chain investigations, initiate improvements and remedy, and strengthen monitoring. FishWise advises companies to be externally transparent about their due diligence plans, including their approach to responding to illegal fishing and human rights risks or findings.
The importance of worker engagement and welcoming worker-led approaches
The most effective way for companies to ensure ethical practices within seafood supply chains is to support workers’ efforts to organize, as is their right under international law, and to safely incorporate workers and worker perspectives into due diligence efforts, including remediation.
A company’s role when human rights abuses are found
In most cases, when human rights abuses surface, FishWise advises companies to work directly with their suppliers and the rights holders involved to better understand the issues and ensure resolution and remedy. In those rare occasions where the government of the sourcing country is deeply involved, organizing, sanctioning and driving those practices that we are all trying to combat, often resolve and remedy are not possible, and the only alternative is to pause sourcing of that associated product in order to comply with relevant laws and prevent that product from entering the marketplace.
Advocate for improved government policies and enforcement
Companies cannot do this work alone. The industry should actively advocate for governments to play their role in oversight and enforcement in sourcing countries and trade. Government enforcement is an essential filter to keep illegal and forced labor products out of the marketplace, and can act as a deterrent to those countries enabling these practices. Governments can also improve existing data collection and data sharing to support the identification and mitigation of human rights abuses.
Opportunity for industry collaboration
At the collective industry level, buyers and suppliers have an opportunity to work together pre-competitively to address issues and risk in critical sourcing communities and regions. One company may not have the leverage needed to influence change, but together, the impact could be great.
For 20 years, FishWise has partnered with seafood businesses, government agencies, and our fellow NGOs to drive market change for sustainable fishing and aquaculture practices across the globe. Because the private sector is accountable for stewarding the ocean and ensuring decent work for seafood workers, we provide guidance to industry across social responsibility, seafood procurement, and legal teams to build cross-functional capacity and facilitate more aligned approaches around responsible and ethical seafood sourcing. FishWise is not a seafood certification, rating, or auditing body. We do have extensive experience developing and implementing social responsibility and counter-IUU fishing due-diligence-based seafood programs with retailers, suppliers, and hospitality companies.