The fisheries and aquaculture sectors are growing in many countries and regions across the world. These sectors include both the harvesting, processing, or selling of fish or seafood and the cultivation of both aquatic animals and aquatic plants otherwise known as ‘aquaculture or fish farming.’ Fisheries and aquaculture operations can range from artisanal, small-scale activities to large industrial and commercial operations.
The Danish Institute outlines the importance of States to provide policies and provisions in this area: “States lack proper national policies, legislation, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms to prevent and address human rights violations in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. States must strengthen monitoring, control, and surveillance to eradicate slavery and other human rights violations in fisheries, as well as control illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing to protect the access rights of small-scale fishers. The human rights impacts of the sectors should be addressed in national action plans, impact assessments and other legal and policy frameworks. States must stop providing quota and subsidies that contribute to human rights violations, such as undermining the livelihoods of fishing-dependent poor coastal communities.” Academic scholarship, such as by Andrew Song and Adam Soliman has focused on the importance of supporting ‘(1) communal fishing rights rather than individual rights, assuming the community strives to ensure the basic dignity of all members by distributing fishing rights in a manner consistent with human rights principles, and (2) the fishing rights of small-scale fisheries against those of larger industrial fleets, rather than using it between two small-scale fishing groups.’ In other words, it is important to recognize that human rights can also be viewed in a collective manner. The need for a human-rights based approach to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors is salient.
In keeping with such a human-rights based approach, environmental and human rights defenders who speak out against large-scale fisheries or aquaculture projects are increasingly facing threats to their fundamental freedoms. The killing of British journalist Dom Phillips alongside indigenous activist Bruno Pereira in Brazil in June 2022, who were investigating illegal fishing in the Amazon is only one such example (The Guardian). In the publication by the DIHR, the necessity for a “national-level regulatory framework” was highlighted. Such frameworks would better protect the fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders and ensure that they are not targeted because of their activism. Another such example is the “case in Puerto Williams, where the Director of the Martín Gusinde Museum was wrongfully dismissed due to his participation in a community protest against a salmon business.” In addition, the Human Rights Committee noted in 2017, the severe restriction on the right to freedom of expression, singling out the case of human rights defender and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh. The Committee expressed concern regarding their arbitrary arrest, detention, unfair trial, and criminal conviction. Nguyen was arrested alongside other environmental activists, Bach Hong Quyen, and Vu Hung, likely for their coverage and criticism of the toxic spill caused by the Taiwan-owned steel factory: Formosa Ha Tinh. The chemical spill resulted in the sickening of locals, as well as the destruction of marine life, including fish and squid, off the coast of four provinces south of the factory, as reported by the ILO. The latter severely impacted the livelihood of fisherfolk in the region.+ Read more
Forced labour and labour conditions
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has highlighted the importance of formalizing working relationships in small-scale and industrial fisheries and aquaculture, as this entitles workers to social protection, safety guidelines, crew welfare and healthcare. “There is an apparent informality of working relationships in the sectors, where access to social protection is minimal. Moreover, the seasonality of the work is still a problem if the sectors are not formalized. Consequently, risky, and unsustainable practices are still present, with small-scale fish workers being forced to go fishing for survival due to low incomes and irregular work without social and health protection.” The seasonality of the fishing and aquaculture sectors put workers at significant risk when work remains informal, preventing social security benefits. In addition to indigenous peoples, foreign and migrant workers are vulnerable to abuse and discrimination by fishing and aquaculture policies and special attention must be paid to protecting their human rights concerns as well.
In addition to the link between human rights and small-scale fisheries, large-scale operations impact on a range of human rights. The Danish Institute of Human Rights has highlighted that “Forced labour, limited access to marine resources and markets among small-scale fishers, increased Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and lack of respect for indigenous peoples’ rights” are among some of the most pressing concerns currently faced by indigenous communities. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has identified forced labour and human trafficking as issues of particular concern. The International Labour Organisation notes “a string of recent reports indicate that forced labour and human trafficking in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors are a severe problem. These reports suggest that fishers, many of them migrant workers, are vulnerable to severe forms of human rights abuse on board fishing vessels. Migrant workers are vulnerable to being deceived and coerced by brokers and recruitment agencies and forced to work on board vessels under the threat of force or by means of debt bondage.”The targeting of migrant workers by large-scale operations is a highly precarious dynamic that warrants cause for concern. For example, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted in their observation to Thailand in 2015 “concern at the persistence of forced labour in the State party, particularly in the fishing industry (arts.6 and 7).”
The ILO has highlighted “lack of training, inadequate language skills, and lack of enforcement of safety and labour standards make these fishers particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking.” Considering these important human rights concerns, the dynamic by which states disregard these abuses on foreign vessels is problematic. States have an obligation to respect global standards on labour conditions and this extends to ensuring vessels operating within their waters are subject to robust oversight as was reported b y the research-based news source: The Conversation. In the context of labour issues, the Irish fishing industry was under scrutiny by the international community regarding “widespread exploitation and alleged trafficking of workers from Asia and Africa on to Irish trawlers” as “four UN rapporteurs – on modern slavery, trafficking in persons, racial discrimination and human rights – joined together to issue an exceptional rebuke to the Irish government, saying they had received information that the permits were making migrants from outside the EU vulnerable to modern slavery and serious abuse on Irish fishing vessels” (The Guardian). The International Transport Federation, a union representing some fisheries workers, also called on the Irish government to scrap its Atypical Working Scheme, which was introduced in 2016, which ITF claims effectively indentures workers to their employers, as reported by the Seafood Source.
An additional dimension of forced labour that is of significant concern is the prevalence of child labour in these sectors. The aquaculture and fishing industry has received “scrutiny over environmental sustainability concerns, [and] has also come under increased scrutiny within the past decade over poor working conditions and severe human rights violations, including widespread use of forced labour and child labour. However, there is limited research and documentation available on child labour in fishing, aquaculture and fish and aquatic food processing globally. Much of the available evidence is centered on labour conditions in global supply chains. However, due to higher levels of informality, limited law enforcement capacity and so on, it is more likely that children produce fish and aquatic-sourced foods for local consumption and domestic supply chains” (FAO).
Lastly, gender discrimination and inaccessibility to decent work is of considerable concern. Exploitation and sexual violence faced by women are also prevalent in the aquaculture industry. “For example, acts of sexual violence towards women, limited freedom of movement of workers, withholding of and low wages, as well as lack of grievance mechanisms and hazardous working conditions have been exposed in shrimp farms and processing industries” (Global Conference on Aquaculture 2020 – Thematic Review: Consultation Draft). By means of example, the Salmon Industry SWIA conducted by the DIHR in Chile highlights the lack of compliance regarding pregnancy-related needs of women workers, as shown in this testimony: “Most workers have their hours deducted when they go for a (pregnancy) check-up. They are often questioned because they go for a medical check-up, they are looked down upon, in the sense that they are not productive for the company”.
Several international and regional frameworks provide legal standards regarding the conduct of business, agreements on the specific guidelines to be adopted by fisheries of varying size and the protection of communities and their human rights who are often impacted by the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, such as indigenous peoples and peasants.
These are outlined below:
- International law
- UN Declaration on the Rights Indigenous Peoples (non-binding)
- UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (non-binding)
- UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (binding)
- ILO Convention 188
As per Pillar 1 of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP), governments should put in place national laws and policies to regulate business practices in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, including allocating adequate resources for inspections in these sectors. Moreover, the provision of remedies (Pillar 3) to injustice and violations of human rights must be considered in the specific context of fisheries.
Indeed, “the inclusion and specific mentioning of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in National Action Plans (NAPs) has been limited. When countries commit to the development of NAPs, it is recommended that they assess which industries in the country are most important and could potentially or actually have negative impacts on rights holders. During the development of a NAP, relevant fisheries and aquaculture stakeholders including fishing communities, businesses, workers, and other stakeholders, such as local NGOs related to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, should be consulted, and involved in national dialogues so that these sectors can be adequately addressed and included in NAPs” (DIHR ).
Other frameworks relevant to the fisheries and aquaculture sector
- The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (non-binding)
- The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, 1995 (non-binding)
- The Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (non-binding)
- Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, 2010 (binding)
- The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (non-binding)
- The Voluntary Guidelines to support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security (non-binding)
- Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 14 ‘Life Below Water’
2. Regional frameworks
The regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) are the international organisations regulating regional fishing activities in the high seas, of which a number exist in relation to different oceans and regions. The organisations are open both to countries in the region (‘coastal states’) and countries that have interests in those fisheries (‘distant water fishing nations’).
While some RFMOs have a purely advisory role, most have management powers to set catch and fishing effort limits, technical measures, and control obligations. An example of an RFMO is the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC).
Regarding national standards on business and human rights, the fisheries and aquaculture sectors are not as advanced on respect for human rights as other sectors. However, in recent years, some states have faced challenges in relation to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and a select few have begun to take action to address these:
- In response to strong criticism Thailand has enacted “regulatory changes designed to register migrant workers and combat forced labor in the fisheries sector (2015). With improved policies in place, the Thai government aims to implement their fisheries management plan and impose criminal and administrative sanctions for those that violate fisheries and labor-related laws” (Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean).
- Indonesia has adopted the Ministerial Regulation 35/2015 regarding the fishing industry, requiring “fisheries entrepreneurs to implement a human rights system that consists of a human rights policy, human rights due diligence and a remediation mechanism for human rights violations. Without the certification of their human rights system, fisheries businesses can lose one or more of their licences to operate (Ministerial Regulation 35/2015, article 12)” (International Labour Organization).
- For the first time in 2021,the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IAcHR) set business and human rights standards for the fishing industry in all states who adopted the American Convention on Human Rights (OpenGlobalRights). This measure follows the case of Honduras, where human rights violations have been perpetrated by private companies operating in the deep diving lobster fishing industry on the Miskito fisher’s community (labor exploitation and unsafe working conditions) (OpenGlobalRights). The Honduras case allowed the court to set a precedent for shaping its human rights jurisprudence. Indeed, the court defined a “Miskito standard” obliging Honduras to regulate, supervise and make reparations for the dangerous practices of private companies in the fishing industry, recalling the duty of the ACHR’s mandated states to apply the UNGPs (OpenGlobalRights).
- In its 2022-2025 National Action Plan for Business and Human Rights, Chile takes concrete action on the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, by delivering training on human rights due diligence to officials of the Undersecretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture (action 1.1.18), as well as by publishing a diagnosis of due diligence processes in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, considering recommendations of good practices in this area (action 2.3.46).
Companies have a growing interest in sustainable seafood that embraces social, environmental, and economic considerations (Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean). Indeed, “many are voluntarily investing in traceability and monitoring technology (e.g., Bumble Bee), committing to respect human rights (e.g., Nestlé), and working in partnership with governments, international organizations, and civil society initiatives to promote sustainable seafood (Safeway and Fair Trade Seafood)” (Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean).
Nestlé conducted an assessment of its shrimp supply chain in Thailand, leading to the publication of an Action Plan on seafood from Thailand, containing concrete measures to protect workers from human rights harm, improve their working conditions and eradicate practices such as child labor (Nestlé). To support the implementation of its human rights policy, ALDI conducted a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) on the wild catch fish and seafood supply chains, with a specific focus on tuna. Similarly, Tesco undertook a HRIA of its shrimp supply chain in Vietnam in 2020, resulting in concrete key recommendations such as “empowering women throughout the supply chain” and “develop standardised monitoring and controls on third-party service providers”.
On a larger scale, the SeaBoS Initiative (Seafood Business for Oceans Stewardship) brings together eight of the biggest seafood companies operating worldwide to “improve transparency and traceability in their own operations, and work together to share information and best practice, building on existing partnerships and collaborations, and engage in concerted efforts to eliminate any form of modern slavery including forced, bonded and child labor in supply chains” (DIHR).
Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean notes that “given the limited reach of most national regulations and treaties relevant to human rights and trafficking, some of the most exciting and creative regulations for protecting workers at sea have placed greater reporting and enforcement responsibilities on private sector businesses. For example, the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (2010) requires large retailers and manufacturers doing business in the state of California to disclose on their web sites their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chains of goods offered for sale. It also requires disclosure concerning product supply chains, supplier audits and certifications, and internal accountability.”
As stated by the Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean, “opportunities exist for regulators and private industry to work together to address human rights abuses as neither can solve the problem alone. For example, Issara Institute, a public–private–social partnership, brings together a wide range of global brands, retailers, non-governmental organizations, academics, and technical experts to investigate and resolve labor issues in export-oriented seafood supply chains and progressive companies have joined the Seafood Task Force to pre-competitively address issues of collective concern and communicate with local government. Whether through regulations like the UK Modern Slavery Act or through voluntary measures, industry initiatives must incorporate greater transparency and traceability within seafood supply chains, genuine worker feedback and representation, and remedies for victims.”
What National Action Plans say on Fisheries and aquaculture sectors
The Belgium NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
Action Point 2.2 [page 55]
The Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism will:
Create working groups in conjunction with the Under-Secretariat of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Under-Secretariat of Tourism, which will have the duty to analyse and create mechanisms allowing to monitor these sectors regarding their respect for human rights. It will encourage and work with SEP for the adoption of an audit system in the field of human rights.
The Colombian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Czech NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
2. The state duty to protect human rights
2.3 Actions Taken
Ensuring policy coherence across governmental departments and agencies [page 11]
“Ensuring policy coherence across governmental departments and agencies: The Government’s CSR efforts are coordinated by an inter-ministerial working group with representatives from departments and agencies who work with CSR and human rights related areas. These include Ministry of Business and Growth, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Employment, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Finance, Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Ministry for Climate, Energy and Building and the Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU) (GP 8).”
The Finnish NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The French NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Georgian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
1.1 Basic rules of economic policy:
Development policy, The current situation [page 19]:
“the Federal Government has undertaken to implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and has initiated a number of development cooperation projects to assist governments of developing countries in enforcing the land-tenure rights of marginalised groups, in strengthening stakeholders in civil society and in raising awareness among companies, for example those investing in agriculture, and gaining their support for the application of these guidelines with a view to preventing illegal actions such as land-grabbing.”
The Irish NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Italian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Japanese NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Kenyan NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Lithuanian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Luxembourg NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Dutch NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
2.1 The state as a legislator: The Minerals Acts [page 19]:
In Norway as in other countries, conflicts may arise between commercial activity and indigenous peoples’ rights. Protection of Sami rights is laid down in the Constitution and other legislation, and obligations towards the Sami people follow from international conventions, particularly Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ILO Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. In Norway, Sami rights are also enshrined in special legislation and through consultation procedures between the public authorities and Sámediggi (the Sami Parliament). As part of its follow-up of ILO Convention 169, Norway is conducting a dialogue with ILO on how the convention is being implemented in Norwegian law, including in the area of mineral resources. In the Official Norwegian Report 2007:13 on legislation pertaining to the Sami, the Sami Rights Commission reviewed measures relating to mineral resources and in legislation that regulates mineral extraction. Some of the commission’s proposals were evaluated in connection with the preparatory work on the Minerals Act. The Act, which replaced five existing acts, entered into force on 1 January 2010. As part of the Government’s follow-up of the report from the Sami Rights Commission, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries will evaluate proposals for amendments to the Minerals Act.
The Pakistan NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Peruvian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Polish NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Slovenian NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The South Korean NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Spanish NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Swedish NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Swiss NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
It was announced in July 2021 at the EU-Taiwan fourth human rights consultation that a National Action Plan on Fishing and Human Rights was also under preparation.
The Thai NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The Ugandan NAP does not make a direct reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The United Kingdom NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.
The United States NAP does not make a direct or explicit reference to the Fisheries and Aquaculture sectors.