The seafood industry is one of the largest employers in the world, providing jobs to millions of people worldwide. However, the industry has significant challenges, including issues around forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of migrant workers. The Washington School of Law recently, March, 23/2023 hosted a webinar with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to discuss the critical issue of migrant fishers’ rights and the importance of promoting human rights in the seafood industry.
The webinar featured experts from different fields, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), US Department of Labor—International Labor Affairs Bureau, Accountability Research Center (ARC), Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) and Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum. The speakers shared their insights on the unique and challenging job of a fisherman, which involves many hazards at sea and starts with the recruitment phase.
“Recruitment has always been a problem because the models built in the past are very hard to disassemble. There is not yet a model,” Kevin Cassidy argued, Director of ILO development and human rights issues. One of the discussions was the need to promote fair recruitment and regular safe migrant work, which Kevin argued is still an ongoing process.
The ILO is working with countries like Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand to reduce forced labor and promote decent work in fisheries. They are also partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to improve governance and enhance coordination with stakeholders in the industry. Tola Moeun from CENTRAL, argues that the regulation should promote fair recruitment while implement civil sanction, criminal or monetary penalty.
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The speakers also discussed various policies and regulations that need to be implemented to protect the rights of migrant workers and improve working conditions in the seafood industry. Anne Zolder, from US Department of Labor, International Labor Affairs Bureau, emphasized the importance of bringing workers and all parties involved to the table to solve the issues of fair recruitment and strengthen labour standards. “Workers should be the central part of the solution,” said Anne.
The panelists furthermore explained various ways that could help address the issue of migrant fishers’ rights, including the importance of social dialogue to meet the workers’ basic needs properly. For example, Jennifer Rosenbaum from Global Labor Justice International Labor Rights Forum is specifically working on providing WIFI on board for fishers. The program addresses the workers’ need for communication access while working at sea. These specific WIFI campaign models bring together workers’ demands in a concrete chain. Jennifer further argued that the government approach is crucial to support the campaign.
During the Q&A session, the speakers discussed the problems with the current recruitment models and how companies want to avoid discussing these issues. The importance of regulating fair recruitment processes and implementing civil sanctions, and criminal or monetary penalties, was emphasized. The need for transparent agreements between workers and employers is crucial—for example, transparency where conflict occurs. The victims should be able to bring a case to court, and the government should provide effective grievance remedy processes.
“The importance is how to put all the puzzles together,” Judy Gearhart, Senior Researcher at the Accountability Research Center (ARC), stressed the importance of examining the issue of labor wages and the seafood industry. She continues, “Human rights idea is more than just knowing the problem with the supply chain. We should be able to track the vessel, industry, and retailers, buyers, so that the chain can regulate as the whole group.” Supporting migrant fishers’ rights and implementing human rights due diligence in the seafood industry is crucial to more than just the problem with a chain but with the whole stakeholder group.
The webinar was insightful on the need to protect migrant fishers’ rights and promote human rights in the seafood industry. The speakers highlighted the importance of fair recruitment, regular safe migrant work, accountability, and effective governance to improve working conditions and reduce forced labor in the industry. Stakeholders in the industry must collaborate to implement policies and regulations that reduce forced labor, protect the rights of migrant workers and ensure a fair and safe working environment for all.
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Meanwhile, on a separate occasion, the National Coordinator for Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) Indonesia Moh. Abdi Suhufan said that global attention and initiatives on improving fishing crew management have not yet touched upon fundamental issues and improved regulations and systems in Indonesia.
“International programs in Indonesia have not penetrated the root cause of the problem. Thus practical solutions to the chaotic migrant fishing boat crews governance yet provided,” said Abdi.
The programs and approaches undertaken thus far are only supervisory and project-based, which must address the issues. “In consequence, there has been no solid regulation regarding the management of migrant fishing boat crews driven by program donors and adopted by the Indonesian government,” concluded Abdi.