SRI’s Advisory Board members are active in many projects around the world designed to advance the rights of those at sea.
Two SRI Board members, Alastair Couper, and Bruno Ciceri, along with Hance D. Smith, have engaged in a project highlighting the plight of the fishing industry’s workforce. Using evidence from the fishers themselves they have shed a much needed light on a largely hidden world.
The study revealed the degree of human suffering of fishers – from forced labour to abandonment, from chronic health problems to murder. Fishers are part of a diverse workforce that spans developed and developing countries, yet they face many of the same challenges. They toil in the world’s most dangerous occupation and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In worst cases, they are trafficked to live in conditions akin to slavery
Tackling the abuses, dangers and economic hardships faced by fishers, along with illegal activities in the industry, entails action across a range of areas at national, regional and international levels. The first step – to raise awareness of the problems and issues at stake – was a key aim of the project.
Fishers clearly need an international legal and regulatory framework that is capable of improving their lives. At global level, the International Labour Organization has started this process through adoption of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188). This seeks to ensure decent standards for all fishers regarding conditions of service, accommodation and food, occupational safety and health protection, as well as medical care and social security. The Convention can only come into force 12 months after it has been ratified by 10 states, eight of which must be coastal countries. As of May 2015 only five countries have ratified. The biggest fish consuming countries have a lead role to play in ratifying and enforcing the Convention.
Equally, there is scope for nations to act on their own. New Zealand, for example, applies its social and labour laws to all fishers operating within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The publication Fishers and Plunderers – Theft, Slavery and Violence at Sea is the result of their investigations, lifting the lid on a largely invisible global industry driven by profits, with little consideration given to either resource conservation or human rights. It also traces in detail the evolution of the fishing industry and the environmental, economic and regulatory issues at stake.
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