Seafood is one of the most-traded foods in the world, with the sector employing at least 260 million workers globally. Thailand alone has a billion-dollar seafood export industry and employs more than 650,000 people. For some time, the environmental impacts of this global industry have been widely discussed, while social sustainability issues in the industry’s long and complex supply chains have been largely overlooked. However, as seafood production increases to meet the rising global demand, more and more reports of severe human rights abuses in supply chains continue to emerge in the seafood hub countries of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Peru and beyond.
Workers in the sector are known to experience some of the worst working conditions on the planet, including bonded labour, excessive working hours, little or no pay, physical abuse, and restricted movement, as workers often find themselves trapped on vessels. The vast majority of workers (largely male and often under the age of 18) are engaged in the early stages of production and often employed through subcontractors or brokers and can be faced with excessive fees during the recruitment process hence leading to bonded labour situations. The complexity of global seafood supply chains and significant gaps and alignment in regulation have made it very difficult to track, much less remedy, these abuses. The scale of the challenge is clear, but we believe that collective, targeted action is key to stamping out this abhorrent crime.
The consumer goods industry has a clear responsibility to play a key role in driving change and eradicating this problem from global seafood supply chains. Our members are now working collectively to implement our Principles in areas and geographies of key concern, starting with the seafood industry in Southeast Asia. Our Seafood Outreach group, led by Veronika Pountcheva, Senior Vice President Corporate Responsibility, METRO Group and Isabelle Aelvoet, Global Sustainability Director at Mars Petcare, is designed to ensure we connect and bridge with existing efforts on seafood to mainstream the principles.
We hold advocacy and supplier events on the ground in key geographies, notably Bangkok, where we held our first supplier event on forced labour in 2017 with AIM PROGRESS, followed by Regional Roundtables on Responsible Recruitment in 2018 alongside the Institute for Human Rights and Business, bringing together brands, suppliers and recruitment agencies. We have also been working continuously to improve certification schemes. Our newly launched Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative, a programme to benchmark and recognise sustainability standards, will support socially responsible supply chains worldwide. We have recently announced our collaboration with Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) to provide a benchmark and recognition tool for social compliance schemes in the seafood sector.