Promoting Responsible Labor Practices in Fishing

The fishing and aquaculture sector is currently one of the world’s fastest growing sectors, with more than 58 million men, women and children involved in fishing and aquaculture globally, according to a 2014 UN FAO report. With the rapid expansion of the sector has come an increase in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, a practice that heightens the likelihood of overfishing and increases risks of labor abuses, as vessels undertake longer and longer voyages in order to find fish, trapping their crews on board for longer and longer periods of time. Forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking of fishers sold into slavery on vessels have been widely reported.

Verité is working to promote ethical labor practice in the seafood sector through advocacy and research that sheds further light on the problem, and through development of resources and approaches that help governments and companies build practical, sustainable solutions.


Learn More

The following resources provide an overview of the risks of labor abuse associated with fishing and seafood production, and present Verité original research on forced labor in shrimp and fish production in Southeast Asia

Human Trafficking Risk in Global Fishing and Aquaculture Sector

This report provides an overview of the sector's risk factors, including hazardous/undesirable work, a vulnerable, easily replaced, and/or low-skilled workforce and the prevalence of migrant workers. Workforce vulnerability in fishing derives from a variety of causes, some of which have to do with the typical structure of employment relationships in the industry, and some of which have to do with the economic and education levels of the worker populations in question.

Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Tuna in the Philippines

While much attention has been paid to the environmental and economic aspects of the Philippines tuna sector, little has been paid to labor conditions, and even less to specific indicators of forced labor. This report sheds light on the presence of these issues.

Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Shrimp in Bangladesh

While the shrimp sector has been promoted as a needed source of employment, previous research has tied the shrimp sector to labor, environmental, and human rights abuses. This report explores what few others have: the indicators of forced labor.

Research on Indicators of Forced Labor in the Supply Chain of Fish in Indonesia: Platform (Jermal) Fishing, Small-Boat Anchovy Fishing, and Blast Fishing

Fishing plays a large role in the Indonesian economy; over 6.2 million people are involved in fishing activities in there. Hazardous working conditions, coercive pay structures, and harassment are just some of the labor rights violations that were discovered and reported here.

Hidden Costs in the Global Economy: Human Trafficking of Philippine Males in Maritime, Construction and Agriculture

The Philippines has been a source of male workers for almost all parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, North America, and Europe. Certain workforce mechanisms and policies in these developed countries exploit the vulnerabilities of these men. Working conditions combined with the Filipino workers’ significant lack of education on relevant topics, results in migrant workers falling prey to unscrupulous employers and human traffickers.

Research on Recruitment of Migrants in Burma/Myanmar into Fishing Work in Thailand

Verité is currently carrying out field research on the nature of recruitment of migrants from Burma/Myanmar into jobs on fishing boats in Thailand. There have been many reports of deceptive recruitment  and human trafficking in this pipeline, with migrants promised high wage jobs in other sectors such as construction, textiles, food processing, or agriculture by their labor brokers, only to find themselves handed over to fishing boat owners or captains against their will once they arrive in Thailand. Verité researchers are studying the processes and mechanisms associated with this phenomenon, discovering where recruitment is occurring within Burma, whether certain ethnic groups are more involved than others, who is doing the recruiting, and what are the potential points of intervention where the process can be disrupted or transformed.

Research on Human Trafficking Risk in the Seafood Sector in Ecuador

Verité recently conducted field research on working conditions and the risk of human trafficking in the seafood sector in Ecuador, the largest shrimp and tuna exporter in Latin America. In 2012, fish exports from Ecuador reached nearly 500,000 tons, rivaling exports from Thailand. Verité also found that over half of these exports were caught in other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and processed in Ecuador. Preliminary research findings demonstrate the intersections between human rights, IUU fishing, seafood fraud and organized crime.  Fishers involved in both medium and small-scale fishing experienced indicators of forced labor such as recruitment deception, indebtedness and coerced participation in illegal activities, including drug trafficking. Stay tuned for more from Verité on this research in the coming months.

Verite Commodity Atlas

More information about Shrimp and Fish may be found in our Commodity Atlas, which examines the links between specific commodities and the worst forms of labor exploitation in the global economy.

What Should Companies Do?

The first step companies can take is to trace the seafood in their supply chain back to its origins. Labor and human rights abuses are linked to both the extraction and processing of fish, so scrutiny of supply chains is necessary at every step in seafood production. Corporate efforts to understand and monitor the environmental implications of their suppliers’ fishing practice should be extended to incorporate efforts to monitor for possible human rights implications as well. Once companies achieve visibility into their supply chains, they should identify specific risks they may face, and improve management systems and business practices to better protect workers from potential abuses. Companies can also participate in ongoing capacity building efforts, public policy advocacy and stakeholder dialogue.


What is Verité Doing?

Verité consults with a wide range of sector stakeholders, including multi-national brands, suppliers, governments and civil society representatives, helping them understand and address labor and human rights problems in the industry. We seek to help retailers, brands and buyers, traders, fish producers, and others that wish to eliminate the risk of labor abuse and lead the field in ethical seafood supply through a series of key steps, beginning with understanding and analysis, and ending with direct action to resolve problems. We are currently working with American seafood companies (retailers, importers, restaurants) to develop a model global compliance plan around trafficking and are piloting efforts in hot spots to determine good practices in compliance areas such as auditing, training, systems building, and research.  In October 2013, Verité – in partnership with Humanity United and the US Department of State – also convened a workshop on human rights abuses in the seafood sector; another workshop focusing specifically on recruitment and trafficking in fishing is being planned for 2015.

Specific Verité services include:

Assessment. Verité’s shadow audits and independent assessments help companies identify risks of labor abuse that they face in seafood supply chains, and improve management systems to better protect workers from these abuses.

Training. Verité boosts critical competencies at all levels of the supply chain with training programs that focus on the root causes of labor abuses and impart the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to resolve these abuses.

Resources. Verité develops customized tools and learning modules to assist companies in protecting workers from labor abuses in the harvesting and processing of seafood.


Contact us to learn more about our fishing sector initiatives.