Introduction: Avoiding Protecting Persons at Sea
To date, sustainability efforts in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors have largely been focused on the environmental consequences of wild capture and fish farm production, with an increasing focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the applicable UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) in addition to established international standards and legal instruments.
The economic focus of corporate fisheries and aquaculture appears to assume that sustainability is synonymous with profit and de facto, market dominance. Meanwhile, fundamental worker rights’ protections within fisheries and aquaculture operations have largely been neglected and often appear within voluntary sustainability programs as an afterthought bolted on to environmental credentials.
Across the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, the often-blatant disregard of assured protections for fundamental worker’s rights through voluntary certifications, standards and rating schemes that aim to measure the environmental and sometimes the chain of custody performance of commercial operations remains prevalent.
This situation is not acceptable.
What seems like a persistent reluctance to comprehensively address the social aspects of fisheries and aquaculture means that human and labour rights protections are regularly excluded from voluntary evaluations and audits of performance for most at-sea operations. Only now, in 2023, and at the time of writing, are we starting to see an increased interest and uptake in the human and labour rights aspects of the ‘S’ in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).
As the founding principle of Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) has stated since April 2014, “Human rights apply at sea, as they do on land”. This framing and positioning is key for true impact and better victim remediation within voluntary certifications, standards and rating schemes, as well as accurate ESG reporting if the current evaluation programs are to accurately account for the environmental, economic and social aspects of operations at sea.
Let us be clear. Human and labour rights protections are not limited just to land-based operations.
Today, with real-time data, intelligence gathering and analytic methods increasing, improvements in worker voice and union representation alongside widespread public reporting, there is now significantly more demand by consumers for transparency surrounding the provenance of products and the real working conditions used to source and produce them. This includes at sea.
For the global seafood industry across fisheries and aquaculture sectors, this means continuously pressing the necessity for accessible and embedded supply chain transparency and accountability from vessel or farm through to plate. It is everyone’s responsibility to implement. 08 But this call to action is not new, and that is the exasperating aspect of this kind of advocacy. Consequently, there remains the need for continuous and ongoing sector reviews. To sum up, the current seafood certification, standards, ratings and ESG ecosystem is saturated in entities vying for market position while their operations are often opaque and hidden behind corporate veils. For this reason, with the external support of MarFishEco and peer reviews, HRAS has spent 36 months examining this landscape to produce an open-source fisheries and aquaculture independent review addressing the worker’s rights and social components that are lacking. Subject to funding, HRAS intends to continue delivering such independent reviews and associated reporting, first, to provide a baseline for public access to available data and, second, to catalyse individual and collective actions for demonstrable change.
David Hammond CEO, Human Rights at Sea
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