• Industry Profile Issue 5/2018

    An interview with Uwe Barg, Mariaeleonora D’Andrea and Felix Marttin, Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Rome, Italy

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Since 2014, the annual FAO-convened Vigo Dialogue has aimed to reach consensus amongst stakeholders on promoting decent employment in fisheries and aquaculture as a win-win situation for all. Some of the important issues to be addressed include abuses of human rights, bondage, poor occupational safety and health, child labour, IUU fishing, ensuring social responsibility, capacity development, institution building, strengthening of fish workers organisations, and ratification of the relevant legal instruments.

INFOFISH : The past Vigo dialogues have called for a range of binding and non-binding international instruments such as the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF), the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, and ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention No. 188 and the Protocol (P029) of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention, to be ratified and implemented. On the eve of Vigo 2018 this October, would you say that there has been significant progress achieved in terms of accession and implementation of the relevant legal instruments?

FAO : Yes, there is progress. The CCRF continues to be the global reference framework for responsible fisheries and aquaculture and FAO Member Countries continue to report to the FAO Committee on Fisheries on progress and efforts made in implementing provisions of the CCRF and related Technical Guidelines. The CCRF survey responses are also used to report on progress made in advancing SDG 14 targets 14.6 (IUU fishing, subsidies) and 14.b (small scale fisheries’ access to resources and markets). The human rights principles and the provisions on decent work and social protection as contained in the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines are being promoted by FAO, its Member Countries and numerous civil society organisations worldwide. In addition, ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention No. 188 and the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention have entered into force in 2017 and 2016 respectively and several countries are working towards ratification of these instruments.

However, there remains a lot of work to be done by many international organisations, governments, industry, civil society and other stakeholders as human rights violations and labour abuses are still widespread in the fisheries sector and its fish value chains.

The importance of ensuring environmental sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture is by now well recognised by most fisheries stakeholders. At the same time, many governments, media, consumers, civil society, trade unions, retailers and industry are increasingly recognising that the new frontier is ensuring social sustainability as well as social responsibility in fish value chains, particularly with regard to human rights and labour rights of fish workers.

Social sustainability and responsibility has to do with the living and working conditions of those operating and working in fisheries, aquaculture, fish processing and other post-harvest activities. This includes aspects ranging from occupational safety and health, appropriate contracts, remuneration, and working hours, to freedom of association, collective bargaining agreements and the availability and access to services such as health, social protection, education, and skills development to ensure decent living and working conditions. This also contributes to ensuring the attractiveness of the profession for youth and to creating efficient and equitable value chains

INFOFISH : Specific to the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the FAO has formulated international instruments and guidelines such as The Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), and the Voluntary Guidelines on Catch Documentation Schemes. What other means of support (e.g awareness raising, capacity development, harmonisation of national and international regulations) are being provided by FAO and other international agencies?

FAO : FAO has launched a global capacity development programme that is providing direct technical and policy assistance to developing countries in their efforts towards PSMA implementation. This is supported by a global awarenessraising and capacity building campaign to ensure that both the benefits of the PSMA as well as the requirements of implementation are well recognised and understood.

The programme will encourage the coordinated implementation of the PSMA with other types of relevant inspections carried out at national level, such as the establishment and/or strengthening of country level inter-agency coordination mechanisms comprising concerned national institutions and entities. These include fisheries management institutions and authorities, port authorities, maritime transport authorities, inspection and enforcement authorities, customs and trade, health/sanitary control authorities, immigration, labour, law enforcement, the judiciary, and other key national institutions relevant to the prevention, deterrence and elimination of IUU fishing. Collaboration between national authorities and the industry can lead to coordinated joint inspections and training to improve working conditions on board fishing vessels and help to ensure that human rights and labour rights are respected.

Meanwhile, FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes will enhance traceability, transparency and accountability in fish value chains and thereby help to combat IUU fishing as well as instances of labour exploitation on board fishing vessels. Suggested risk assessment criteria for Catch Documentation Schemes include fishers’ incomes and livelihood. In addition, the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear were recently endorsed by the Thirty third Session of FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI33), held on 9-13 July 2018 in Rome. The Voluntary Guidelines are considered an important tool in minimising the impact of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) and ghost fishing, and in combatting Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

INFOFISH : The FAO publication (2016) entitled “Scoping study on decent work and employment in fisheries and aquaculture: Issues and actions for discussion and programming”, suggested key recommendations for potential FAO actions in order to support decent work in fisheries and aquaculture. These recommendations were listed under three main categories: (i) policy support and data availability; (ii) advice and capacity development; and (iii) advocacy, communication and partnership. Of the three categories, in which area would you say that efforts have most lagged behind?

FAO : Our efforts have advanced the most in terms of advocacy, communication and partnership. But there is still a very significant need for awareness raising on, and recognition of, human rights violations and labour abuses affecting many fish workers including women, children, migrants, vulnerable and marginalised people in many fish value chains. FAO is promoting global, regional and national multi-stakeholder dialogues and is partnering with ILO, IMO, and other UN agencies, OECD, the Holy See as well as international fish industry and civil society organisations and unions representing fish workers, and other stakeholders with a view to enhancing and encouraging efforts that will address these issues.

For instance, in line with FAO’s Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction, FAO continues to provide policy support and advice on decent work, social protection and human rights issues in fisheries and aquaculture. FAO’s Committee on World Food Security as well as Committee on Fisheries (COFI) have highlighted the importance of ensuring social protection, decent work and human rights based approaches to small scale fisheries. COFI has also repeatedly recognised the concurrence and links between IUU fishing and labour abuses. Social sustainability, human rights and labour issues in fisheries, aquaculture and associated fish value chains were discussed by the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (in 2016 and 2017) and COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (in 2015).

  Women and children in some countries work long hours in some aspect of the fisheries industry

Women and children in some countries work long hours in some aspect of the
fisheries industry

Examples of FAO contributions and activities undertaken in collaboration with partners include:

  • the 2018 Regional Technical Seminar in Manila, Philippines: “Joining forces in the fisheries sector: promoting safety, decent work and the fight against IUU fishing” (with Apostleship of the Sea, IMO, ILO) - *see page 46 for Manila Call for Action;
  • the 2017 Workshop on Exploring the Human Rights- Based Approach in the Context of the Implementation and Monitoring of the SSF Guidelines;
  • studies on the social protection systems available to smallscale fishing communities in Albania, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia (with GFCM) and in Cambodia and Myanmar;
  • International Partnership for Cooperation on Child Labour in Agriculture (IPCCLA) that is supported by FAO, ILO, IFAD and IUF; development of guidance and policy briefs on child labour in fisheries and aquaculture as well as direct technical support in Malawi, Tanzania, Cambodia, Ghana and Costa Rica; Lake Volta regional workshop on child labour in fisheries (with ILO);
  • the ongoing global study on occupational safety and health (OSH) risk management in aquaculture (with the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and the University of Stirling); and
  • support to the 2018 International Fishing Industry Safety & Health conference (IFISH 5) that also covered fish processing and aquaculture.

The 33rd Session of the COFI in July 2018 also highlighted the importance of safety at sea and working conditions in the fisheries sector and welcomed the close collaboration between FAO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). COFI Members requested FAO to further strengthen international collaboration on occupational health and safety issues in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and to promote decent work for fish workers.

INFOFISH : One cross-cutting example of FAO action in the context of the recommendations mentioned above is its partnership with the Global Fishing Watch platform. Does the FAO intend to develop its own information technology platform to assist in data collection with regard to IUU fishing?

FAO : FAO is developing the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record) to facilitate the sharing of information about vessels and vessel-related activities to combat IUU fishing by enabling verification of information (by flag, port, coastal or market States) and risk assessment (for example to conduct inspections). Not only fishing vessels but also transport vessels (carrying out transhipment with the fishing vessels) and supply vessels play an important role in IUU fishing and thus are also considered.

This global information system acts as a single access point for relevant and reliable information to fight IUU fishing through increased transparency and traceability regarding the vessels (their identities, characteristics, ownership, historical details. etc.) and their operations (authorisations and compliance information). The Unique Vessel Identifier (UVI) that stays with the vessel for its entire life regardless of changes of flag, name or ownership ensures adequate identification of the vessel worldwide and allows linkages among all relevant information. The UVI also has a key role in ensuring the traceability of the fish products from the sea to the plate as it may be included in all relevant documentation.

Information about the global fleet and its operations is key not only to ocean governance in general but also intrinsically related to safety, labour, migration, and other issues of concern such as human rights violations, drugs smuggling, etc. for which the vessel is the means through which some of these activities are carried out. Availability and transparency of this information is therefore a cornerstone in addressing these matters given the interlinkages recognised by COFI among IUU fishing, safety at sea and forced labour.

INFOFISH : What are some main reasons stated by harvesting and processing companies as being obstacles for them to promote decent working conditions? Specific to Asia, could you give examples of how companies are successfully addressing these challenges?

FAO : The reasons are always very different. Probably the most significant obstacles are economic and financial constraints that may result from fluctuations in prices and market demand as well as from declining abundance of fish stocks and harvests forcing fishers to expand the distance and range of their fishing operations. The need to reduce costs are the main reasons for decent work deficiencies.

Poverty is a key driver for labour abuses and human rights violations in fisheries. When stocks decline, operational costs increase, which then reduces income per fisher. With limited alternative livelihoods – as is often the case in poor communities– to increase income, fishers may resort to practices like reducing mesh sizes, fishing in closed areas or during closed seasons, and also reducing other costs related to working conditions like health and safety measures, food and accommodation, and of course incomes. This can result in employing children, including young migrants, or forced labour.

However, poverty is not the only driver. There are cases where strong interests to increase profit margins in domestic and global value chains affects social conditions. Such selfish, if not greedy attitudes, often disregard the basic ethical and social considerations towards fish workers, their families and communities. This obviously calls for more responsible business conduct to ensure respect of human and labour rights.

Examples of these conditions are observed all over the world, in developing and in more developed countries. Understandably, once someone decides to break one law or management measure, it becomes easier to break other laws/regulations. For this reason we feel that there is a strong link between IUU fishing and labour abuses and human rights violations (including safety risks at sea).

It is frequently claimed that there are no national regulations on working conditions in the fisheries sector. And in fact, most States have not ratified sectoral labour conventions such as the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188) or other international human rights binding treaties. Furthermore, small-scale fishers and fish workers, as is the case with other agricultural workers, make up a very informal sector and they might end up in the loopholes of labour regulations which leaves them without adequate legal protection.

There are several initiatives that companies are taking in the region after very significant media interest has sparked attention in working conditions in fisheries. Most of the time, these initiatives involve NGOs, auditing and certification schemes, as well as buyers and retailers in market states. Some initiatives are increasingly promoting traceability and transparency in value chains and are addressing illegal fishing. Since recently there have been fast growing efforts undertaken by certification companies that include social criteria in their standards.

INFOFISH : The rapid rise in global demand for seafood which carry proof of sustainability and traceability through documents and labels, is a signal to all producing and processing companies that they need to adapt to the new market realities in order to survive. To what extent does the concept of decent work appear as a prerequisite in certification schemes? What can seafood businesses do to ensure greater due diligence in their supply chains?

FAO : Buyers are increasingly requesting business-to-business evidence that the seafood industry applies due diligence measures throughout fish supply chains, and the major seafood certification bodies are investigating how parameters addressing social and labour issues can be incorporated into their certification schemes.

In 2016, OECD and FAO published “Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains” to help enterprises observe existing standards for responsible business conduct along agricultural supply chains. These standards include the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the ILO Tripartite Declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy, the Principles for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and other international instruments and standards. They however focus mostly on crops and livestock, and do not address issues and challenges specific to fisheries and aquaculture, including, in particular, fish value chains.

Going further, the 2017 session of COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade discussed social sustainability issues in fisheries value chains and the link to trade. The meeting emphasised the sector’s responsibility towards people working in fish value chains and support for sustainable livelihoods of communities depending on fish production, processing, distribution and trade. The Sub-Committee recommended that FAO should explore the possibility of developing, in close collaboration with interested partner organisations and stakeholders, a guidance document to assist fish value chain actors in the implementation of existing relevant instruments, criteria and measures covering responsible business conduct, human rights and international labour standards.

As already done for agricultural supply chains, FAO has reached out to interested partners (governments, ILO, UN-OHCHR, UNCTAD, OECD, and other international agencies, industry and civil society organisations including ICFA, IFFO, GAA, ICSF, ITF, IUF, and others, as well as initiatives such as SeaBOS and others) for collaboration on the development of a guidance document on responsible business conduct (emphasising risk-based due diligence approaches) in fish value chains, focusing however primarily on social aspects including human rights and labour issues. Risk areas to be explored for possible coverage by the envisaged guidance document would include human rights, labour rights, health and safety, food security, tenure rights and governance.

In July 2018, the COFI 33 meeting recommended the development of a guidance document on social sustainability to assist value-chain operators in the implementation of existing relevant instruments. It requested that this work be carried out in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fish worker associations, building on experience from the development of the OECD-FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains.

INFOFISH : The need to survive is a powerful reason for fish workers and migrants to take up jobs in fisheries even when adequate protection is not accorded to them. How would you respond to critics who say that there is little point in pursuing decent work dialogue at the policy level when at the same time, smallscale communities are grappling with pervasive poverty?

FAO : Addressing working conditions in the sector through multilevel approaches is important. Policy dialogues at the global level are key in creating awareness, increasing visibility and reaching out to actors in market states that have immense power across global value chains. But it is true that it is also necessary to address the ‘push’ factors behind people falling through the cracks and accepting working conditions. In the fisheries sector as well as in agriculture, FAO continues to work at the national level through the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries and on addressing rural poverty. In the context of Agenda 2030, ensuring access of small-scale fishers to markets and resources is key.

INFOFISH : Women in many countries work long hours at points along the seafood value chain, juggling the need for income against child-bearing and family responsibilities. What would be effective in-country approaches that could be adopted by governments to ensure greater gender sensitivity?

FAO : There is much scope for the promotion of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 which has special emphasis on gender equality, women empowerment as well as human and labour rights all along fisheries value chains, including the fish processing sector where there are millions of women fish workers. There are huge opportunities and challenges that can and should be tackled both by governments as well as nonstate actors.

A recent study (https://wsi-asso.org/wp-content uploads/2018/07/WSI-Survey-2018.pdf) by the International Organisation for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI) confirmed that gender inequality is pervasive in the seafood industry and not yet on the agenda of a great majority of seafood leaders, and so there is much room for progress. Gender inequality won’t be able to resist progressive laws, positive dedicated mainstream programmes in the public and private sectors, and an evolution of seafood leaders’ mindsets. Under the combined pressure of calls for progress from intergovernmental institutions, justifiable requests from a growing number of women, the pressure of dedicated NGOs, and last but not least the positive influence of gender sensitive and responsible companies, the industry can no longer ignore this issue.

The WSI study has identified three steps which could work efficiently to break the vicious circle of gender inequality in the seafood industry: raising the consciousness of all stakeholders of what is at stake; engaging men in this progressive conversation; and creating opportunities for such dialogue on gender equality among all stakeholders to happen.

INFOFISH : And finally, on a personal note, what are you hoping will be resolved or discussed in greater detail at this year’s Vigo Dialogue?

The Vigo Dialogue in October 2018 will focus on the promotion of responsible business conduct, human rights and international labour standards in fisheries and aquaculture value chains. In particular, the Dialogue will provide the opportunity for awareness raising and exchange of views among multiple stakeholders on the envisaged development of a guidance document on social responsibility, as recommended by COFI33. A presentation will be given on the possible contents and the expected multi-stakeholder process for the development of the recommended guidance document on social responsibility in fish value chains. The importance of risk-based due diligence for responsible business conduct (especially in terms of ensuring human rights and labour rights) and its relevance for social sustainability in fish value chains will be emphasised. In subsequent panel discussions, representatives of intergovernmental organisations and governments as well as of seafood industry and retail, fish worker organisations, academia and other stakeholder groups will share views, expectations and suggestions on the envisaged guidance document for social responsibility in fish value chains.

Last not least, it is worth noting that 2018 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. FAO is preparing, together with the Apostleship of the Sea of the Holy See, a special event on the occasion of World Fisheries Day on 21 November 2018, that will carry the theme: ‘Labour rights are human rights: working together to ensure the rights of fishers and strengthening the fight against trafficking and forced labour within the fishing sector’.


Uwe Barg
Aquaculture Officer


Felix Marttin
Fishery Resources Officer


Mariaeleonora D’Andrea
Consultant, Decent Work and Social


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