Comments to the Marine Stewardship Council regarding proposed labor requirements

Publication Date: 

April 15, 2018

We submit the following comments to Marine Stewardship Council's consultation on labor requirements for fisheries and supply chains on behalf of the Thai Seafood Working Group. The Seafood Working Group is a coalition of nearly 60 environmental, human rights and labor organizations from about a dozen countries dedicated to the eradication of all forms of worker exploitation, including human trafficking and forced labor, in the seafood trade, particularly in Thailand. Our membership includes leading organizations with expertise in ridding supply chains of labor rights abuses and protecting the ocean's ecological resources by combatting IUU fishing.

We have welcomed engaging in dialogue with you about how MSC should proceed into revising its labor policy and developing labor requirements for fisheries and at-sea supply chain entities. The two-tiered approach suggested in the latest consultation document, with a disclosure form rather than a declaration form proposed in the near-term, is a significant improvement over the first iteration of MSC’s plans. We are glad you have reflected previous comments into your current proposal, and appreciate your efforts to avoid overpromising on what MSC is able to deliver on monitoring labor conditions within certified bodies.

We reiterate our concerns on the long-term plan to develop labor standards applicable to MSC fisheries from either the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) or Fair Trade USA, both of which we have serious reservations about in terms of their ability to be scaled to a global standard for labor auditing on fishing vessels, particularly in fisheries at high-risk of human trafficking. We maintain that establishing a credible third-party monitoring system for fishing vessels is a challenging proposition that, if it is feasible at all, will need to be carefully and thoughtfully designed with a mind toward the considerations outlined in our previous comments.

MSC would likely better serve its mission by developing commitments for certified bodies that lead to more granular improvements by incentivizing particular changes. We stand ready to work with you on how MSC could make changes within the existing certification structure that would reduce the likelihood of labor exploitation and promote the ability of worker-led monitoring of working conditions on fishing vessels. For example, this could include commitments to install mandatory vessel tracking systems and communications systems for crew to utilize onboard, public reporting on ship movement, prohibiting unobserved transshipment at sea, and incentivizing adoption of global enforcement mechanisms such as ILO Convention 188, the Port State Measures Agreement and the Cape Town Agreement. As human rights and labor organizations, we are well-positioned to develop improvement-bound approaches for certified bodies to adopt that reduce risk of forced labor, but doesn’t open MSC up to criticisms of overstepping its mandate or certifying claims that cannot be verified.