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27 Jul 2022

Advocates for Public Interest Law, the International Transport Workers Federation, Citizens Institute for Environmental Studies, Environmental Justice Foundation, Human Dignity Group, Human Rights Now, and Serve the People Association.

Global: 7 NGOs urge Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission members to better protect labour rights of crew in seafood supply chain

[No Fisheries without Crew: The Urgent Need for Labor Standards in the WCPFC] 7 June 2022

Numerous media exposes and NGO reports have documented human and labor rights abuse across global fisheries including in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries (WCPF) Convention area. The widespread accounts of horrific working conditions demonstrate that the global seafood supply chain is extensively tainted with forced labour and human trafficking.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) members, cooperating nonmembers, and participating territories (CCMs) have a duty to protect human rights. This commitment applies at sea as it does on land, and high seas fishing is particularly high risk to labor exploitation. Its transnational nature poses unique challenges for government oversight and heightens the vulnerability of migrant crew to exploitation. As such, in order for states to fulfill their duty to human rights, they need a transnational measure involving a regional body, such as a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO). In addition, the close association between illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and human rights abuse of crew requires that their countermeasures are aligned.

The WCPFC has the authority to provide a transitional space to align such countermeasures. Key international instruments related to sustainable fisheries suggest that not only are individual states obliged to provide protection for crew but also that RFMOs can be the means to fulfill such obligation. Based on these key texts, the WCPF Convention mandates the Commission to adopt minimum standards for responsible fishing operations, including labour standards, and the Commission has already been exercising this mandate. Fisheries cannot exist without crew. The labour of crew members is at the heart of a fishing operation, and the protection of crew can and should be an integral part of fisheries regulations. Government delegations should therefore make full efforts to ensure that appropriate, effective, and binding labour standards are established to promote responsible fisheries in the WCPFC.