Labour conditions on fishing boats are difficult to observe and monitor. The very nature of the fishing industry means that workers carry out their duties ‘over the horizon’ and therefore, beyond the reach of the standard due diligence processes such as routine audit and inspection.
In recent months, there have been a number of allegations of labour abuse and unethical treatment of fishermen in the UK media, some of these occurring in developing world nations and some closer to home in UK and EU fisheries. In the worst cases, these allegations include instances of Modern Day Slavery.
Should such malpractice occur in upstream supply chains, it would represent a significant risk to brand integrity and the potential loss of consumer confidence for that business. This also represents the possibility of hostile litigation – the emergence of CLASS action lawsuits in the US targeting businesses which allegedly (knowingly) sell seafood products which have been produced using Modern Day Slavery sets a worrying precedent for brand owners. This development is of particular pertinence in the UK since the passing of the Consumer Rights Act in 2015, which now enables similar CLASS action lawsuits under UK law.
The Fair Seas Solution
This is a difficult area for even the largest and best-resourced buyers of seafood. The range of business tools available to identify and avoid unethically traded product is still very limited, and whilst these are being developed, businesses remain at risk.
More importantly though, the true victims of these crimes at sea will remain unprotected until a credible suite of Social Accountability tools have been developed and deployed onto fishing vessels around the world.
Whether you are the buyer of seafood commodities or the owner of a fishing vessel, the Fair Seas Social Accountability Toolkit provides real solutions to assure the fair treatment of at-sea fishing workers.