2 June 2017

Scientists launch global agenda to curb social and human rights abuses in the international seafood sector

As the United Nations Oceans Conference convenes in New York, a new paper calls on marine scientists to focus on social issues such as human rights violations in the international seafood industry.

Authored by Conservation International and a team of researchers at leading organisations, the paper is the first integrated approach to meeting this global challenge and will be presented as part of the UN Oceans Conference and the Seafood Summit, which both take place June 5-9 in New York and Seattle, respectively.

The article, published today in the journal Science, is in direct response to investigative reports by the Associated Press, the Guardian, the New York Times and other media outlets that uncovered glaring human rights violations on fishing vessels. The investigations tracked the widespread use of slave labor in Southeast Asia and its role in bringing seafood to Western restaurants and supermarkets, chronicling the plight of fishermen tricked and trapped into working 22-hour days, often without pay and while enduring abuse. Subsequent investigations have documented the global extent of these abuses in a wide array of countries. 

“The scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the seafood sector,” said Jack Kittinger, CI’s Senior Director, Global Fisheries and Aquaculture. “The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that governments, businesses, and nonprofits are working together to improve human rights, equality and food and livelihood security. This is a holistic and comprehensive approach that establishes a global standard to address these social challenges.”

In addition, the paper calls for an increased focus on the potential social impacts of the seafood trade, such as undermining food and livelihood insecurity and increasing inequality..

Lancaster University’s Dr Christina Hicks, an Environmental Social Scientist and one of the paper’s authors, said: “Small scale fisheries can struggle to compete with larger industrial fisheries and the presence of large lucrative operations can drive the price of seafood up, reducing the amount of fish sold locally, increasing inequality and creating poverty. The seafood industry has a moral responsibility to ensure it does not undermine local jobs, opportunities, or food security.”

As part of the initiative, Conservation International has organized a volunteer commitment, calling on governments, NGOs, businesses and other organisations to improve social responsibility in the seafood sector.  For a list of organisations that have already committed to this call to action, visit: https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/?id=15143.

The paper identifies three key principles that together establish a global standard for social responsibility in the seafood sector:  

  • Protecting human rights, dignity and respecting access to resources
  • Ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit
  • Improving food and livelihood security

Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. By 2030, the oceans will need to supply more than 150 million metric tons of seafood to meet the demands of a growing population. The paper calls on governments, businesses and the scientific community to take measurable steps to ensure seafood is sourced without harm to the environment and people that work in the seafood industry.


📷 Emily Darling

About Conservation International

Conservation International (CI) uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about CI and its groundbreaking "Nature Is Speaking" campaign, and follow CI's work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Authors of the paper are affiliated to 21 institutons:

1 Conservation International, Center for Oceans

2 Arizona State University, Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, USA

3 Nereus Program, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Canada

4 School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, USA

5 Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Canada

6 Stanford University, Center for Ocean Solutions and Hopkins Marine Station, USA

7 Lancaster University, UK

8 University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, USA

9 The Sustainability Incubator, USA

10 FishWise, USA

11 Fair Trade USA

12 Verité, USA

13 Lori Bishop Consulting, USA

14 California Environmental Associates, USA

15 Ocean Outcomes, USA

16 School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, USA

17 School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada

18 Environmental Studies Program, Colby College, USA

19 Smartfish AC, 2395 Marquez de León, La Paz, México 23000

20 CoopeSoliDar R.L., Costa Rica

21 Department of Marine Conservation and Policy, Ocean Policy Research Institute, Sasakawa Peace Foundation