Essential Elements for Effective Social Responsibility in the Seafood Sector

Independent Monitoring at Sea

In May 2016, ILRF launched the Independent Monitoring at Sea (IM@Sea) project to address some of the vulnerabilities of migrant workers in the Thai fishing fleet by enabling worker connectivity while at sea, improving forced labor risk assessments, and developing a worker-driven grievance mechanism. The project set out to better inform government, industry leaders, and civil society on actions needed: utilizing technology platforms to systematically collect, analyze and report on work at sea and connecting workers to worker organizations to implement such systems and remediate abuses identified. The project was a first step toward enabling fishing crews to use their voice to prevent and remediate forced labor and human trafficking on fishing vessels.

Essential Elements

The four Essential Elements are:

1) Genuine worker representation

Workers, and their unions or other representative organizations, should be involved in all stages of design, training, implementation and governance of social responsibility projects. Real-time worker-driven monitoring at sea is a fundamental feature of genuine worker representation in the marine capture fisheries sector, and requires access to electronic communication at-sea and an around-the-clock worker-driven complaints mechanism manned by qualified worker representatives.

2) Comprehensive and transparent risk assessment and verification of workplace compliance

Effective human rights due diligence requires comprehensive and in-depth worker interviews on land, close scrutiny of employment-related documents and data on working conditions at sea, and transparent tracking of human rights performance in the public domain.

3) Legally-binding and enforceable agreements

Respect for human rights in corporate supply chains cannot be optional or voluntary. Workers need these rights embedded in contracts and a means to hold employers and others in the supply chain accountable. These legal agreements should clearly articulate the rights and responsibilities of each party and dispute resolution procedure, as well as provisions that guarantee an effective grievance mechanism, and zero tolerance for reprisals.

4) Changes to brand purchasing practices

Brand respect for the human rights of workers in their supply chains requires a change in purchasing practices that incentivizes and enables suppliers to comply with human rights norms and brand requirements. Buyers must analyze, address and make changes to their purchasing practices so that they do not contribute to human rights violations, but instead actively support and incentivize suppliers in remediating them.

Call to Action

ILRF is calling for a new social and environmental pact between businesses, trade unions, and civil society organizations where workers are empowered by their representative organizations to secure both decent work and sustainable fisheries. Such an agreement must be negotiated between global union federations, local worker representatives, human rights organizations, environmental groups, and businesses all along the supply chain. The Essential Elements identify key structural elements that need to be addressed in such an agreement.

In addition to the Essential Elements, there are certain features that are integral to the successful implementation and administration of a supply chain agreement that should be considered by those trying to build one in the seafood sector. These are drawn from reports on lessons learned from the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, as well as ongoing discussions about integrating social responsibility into Fishery Improvement Projects. These features are:

  • Equitable governance structure
  • Well-resourced secretariat
  • Clear, prescriptive terms on the rights and responsibilities of each party to the agreement
  • Binding international arbitration
  • Self-financing mechanism

Building an effective compliance program that utilizes these features would enlist workers as agents of change with the potential to improve the industry and serve as the foundation for decent work in global seafood supply chains, sustainable fisheries, and long-term profit for the seafood industry. Signing such agreements with global union federations, providing support for local unions and representative worker organizations to monitor implementation, is a way for brands to put into practice the commitment to freedom of association and collective bargaining that many include in their supplier codes of conduct, even in countries in which those rights are severely restricted.

The IM@Sea project laid the groundwork for such an agreement in showing how worker-driven monitoring and worker-driven operational-level grievance mechanisms could work on fishing vessels. It is time to take the concept to the next level by enshrining the Essential Elements in an agreement between major seafood purchasers, suppliers, trade unions, and civil society organizations.