Fishing is a practice almost as old as mankind itself, and at a commercial scale began when there were literally plenty of fish in the sea
The seafood industry has been identified as one of those industries where human rights violations have been able to emerge out of sight of consumer or regulator eyes. Forced labor, human trafficking, extreme working conditions, underage labor, and document retention have all been identified as contributing to the mix of illegal and unsafe labor at sea, as well as the lack of strong regulation or enforcement of codes. Several Codes of Conduct for Vessels have been developed, including those developed by the UK Responsible Fishing Scheme, the Organization of Producers for Spain (OPAGAC), companies such as Thai Union, and the Seafood Task Force. The Codes take some of the lessons learned from social compliance in production and processing on land, and apply to them to the challenges of working at sea. The International Labor Organization (ILO) C188 Work in Fishing Convention entered into force on , bringing with it standards to help ensure decent work for the 38 million people estimated to be working in often hazardous conditions in wild capture fisheries.
However, these issues are not just contained to the seafood industry, and regulations around the world are impacting the management of human rights at sea and in the seafood industry. As mentioned previously in the Thai Union case study, there is a groundswell of support to eliminate the recruitment fees that exist in industries around the world, as well as helping people to migrate safely and legally. The Bali Process, set up in 2002 to address people smuggling, human trafficking, and related transnational crime, has more than 48 members and brings together governments and international agencies to address these issues primarily in the most affected countries throughout Asia and including the US and Australia. In 2017 businesses were asked to join in this process for the first timepanies such as Walmart, Adidas, Thai Union, Fortescue Metals, and JD joined forces to discuss how to stop modern slavery and how business and government could work together. This focus will most definitely impact the seafood industry, given that 80 percent of the world’s seafood workers are from Asia. Other regulations, such as the US Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act of 2016 and the UK Modern Slavery Act of 2015, are also starting to impact how businesses operate and their transparency on management of human rights within their own operations and supply chains.
Not only have Greenpeace and other NGOs advocated on the issue of human rights at sea, but media exposures by The Guardian, the New York Times, the Associated Press and others have also drawn attention to the issues
The oceans are a precious resource and need to be managed wisely. Sustainable management of fisheries is an integral part of managing oceans. But times are changing. Fish stocks around the world are under threat. Anthropocentric pressures, such as climate change and pollutants, have for many years been known. New and emerging issues, such as ocean plastics and the even more troublesome issue of microplastics, are starting to impact ocean health. To save the seas, ocean corporate responsibility needs three Cs: Commitment (to action for common good), Clarity (in desired outcomes) and Collaboration (with science, with regulators, and with civil society). Ocean sustainability is no longer a fringe issue of environmental campaigns. Scientists have been publishing research on the decline of ocean health for years. The Economist will run its 5 th World Ocean Summit in 2018, bringing with it discussions on how the capital and private sector can invest in ocean sustainability. By contrast, the UN ran its first Ocean Summit in New York in 2017. The private sector has recognized the risks and opportunities perhaps far ahead of governments. SeaBOS is now well underway in directly influencing the strategic direction and operational activities of participating Growlr companies, and represents a novel and exciting opportunity for change. With business working together with science, governance, and regulation, we perhaps have some hope for a sustainable ocean future.