Today is Human Rights Day. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no one will be held in slavery and everyone has the right to just and favourable conditions of work. Unfortunately, 70 years after this declaration, not all fishermen are able to enjoy these rights still. Especially in illegal fisheries, fishermen are sometimes forced to work under terrible conditions for minimum or no pay.
An industry where there have been many account of terrible working conditions, was in the Thai fishing industry. A report by Human Rights Watch documented forced labour and other human rights abuses in the Thai fishing sector. It identifies poor working conditions, such as insufficient food and 22 hour working days. While the government has taken positive steps towards reforms, the effectiveness remains unclear according to HRW.
Mistreatment of fishermen does not only occur in Southeast Asia. As reported by the South African NGO Biblia to Thomas Reuters Foundation, there have been accounts of slavery on many vessels coming into ports of Cape Town. Part of the problem here is the lack of oversight on fishermen’s working conditions on the high seas, according to the International Labour Organisation. The fishermen are abused economically and physically and lack legal knowledge or language skills needed to raise a complaint.
At Good Fish, we aim to accelerate the transition to responsible decisions in the seafood supply chain. A good fish, is one that is caught legally and harvested or farmed under safe and fair labour conditions. Human rights violations often go hand in hand with illegal fishing (IUU), making it hard to implement effective measures against these violations. Simultaneously, this means that greater transparency and traceability needed for combatting IUU, are expected to contribute greatly in eradicating modern-day slavery from seafood supply chains.
Sources: Human Rights Watch, ‘Hidden Chains” Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry’ (23 January 2018); Inna Lazareva, ‘Frenzy for fish means torturous life at sea for migrant fishermen’ (7 December 2018); Environmental Justice Foundation and WWF, ‘Advisory Note for the UK Supply Chain on how to avoid Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishery products’ (2015).