Human rights: when commitments are in place, these are not followed by action
The seafood sector is globally recognised as a high-risk sector for human and labour rights abuses, including forced labour and poor working conditions on-board fishing vessels. Indeed, as several reports have revealed over the years, the seafood industry is still facing challenges to ensure the human rights and health and safety of workers, especially fishers on distant-water fishing fleets. The sector is characterised by complex and opaque supply chains, highlighting the need for companies to ensure they are aware of human and labour rights risks and act on them accordingly. While there are clearly defined and globally agreed frameworks, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s conventions, our research finds that seafood companies are lagging behind.
When it comes to protecting human rights, half of the companies lack a comprehensive commitment to protect human rights in their operations and supply chains and only 3 companies (CP Group, Thai Union, Royal Greenland) have a comprehensive commitment to prohibit forced labour. Even when commitments are in place, these are usually not followed by robust procedures, with only 1 company (Thai Union) having a full due diligence mechanism in place. Without due diligence in place, companies cannot identify, assess and act on human rights risks in their business activities and supply chains.
Health & Safety on fishing vessels: out of sight, out of mind
Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the world with more than 24,000 casualties per year. Aquaculture and seafood processing have also been highlighted as hazardous industries. A third of the companies still do not have a commitment to respect the health and safety of workers in their operations and their supply chains. When zooming in specifically on working and living conditions on board fishing vessels, only 8 companies (Bolton Group, CP Group, FCF, High Liner Foods, Nueva Pescanova, Parlevliet & Van der Plas, Royal Greenland, Thai Union) have an explicit policy to address this issue and only 2 of those companies (FCF and Thai Union) complement this commitment with having monitoring procedures in place. Fishing companies and buyers can help improve working and living conditions on board fishing vessels by supporting the development and implementation of social responsibility standards that are in line with relevant ILO conventions in their own operations and/or on vessels in their supply chains.
Companies must support small-scale producers’ resilience
Most of the world’s seafood is produced or caught by small-scale producers. Small-scale producers serve as an economic and social engine, supporting food and nutrition security, employment and other multipliers to local economies while underpinning the livelihoods of coastal communities. The ability of farmers and fishers to earn a living income is critical to ensure their viability and economic success. However, small-scale farmers and fishers often lack opportunities to access markets to sell their products. Our results shows that two thirds of the companies do not have a public commitment or provide evidence of supporting small-scale farmers and fishers. Moreover, none of the companies disclose targets towards paying a living wage across their operations or how they support the payment of living wages in the supply chain.