Forced labor, Slavery, IUU and Fisheries Crime in the Seafood supply chain

Forced labor, Slavery, IUU and Fisheries Crime in the Seafood supply chain

To start, I would like to say that the IUU and illegal operators put fishermen at an unfair disadvantage and that they are in this way, also negatively affecting the global seafood supply chain industry.

Last week I wrote for one of the most credible NGOs looking at human rights in different supply chains: Slavefreetrade, about Forced labor and Slavery in the seafood supply chain. It was a challenge to summarize this global and complex issue in 500 words, although we ended up with almost 900 words in this final article.

In this blog, I would like to go beyond the IUU, forced labor, and complexities in the seafood supply chains. I would like to talk about fisheries crime in the fishery sector which is also affecting the aquaculture sector because these are interconnected.

This blog aims to share the existing connections between the IUU occurring at sea, human rights at sea, and fisheries crime; I will also give some recommendations and a responsible model or harmonization tool that includes the issues and elements mentioned affecting human rights at sea.

FISHCRIME at UN city, Copenhagen-Denmark

In October 2018, I attended in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Fourth Fishcrime Symposium 2018 organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with 250 attendees including the Ministers of Benin, Chile, Costa Rica, Faroe Islands, Fijis, Ghana, Greenland, Iceland, Indonesia, Kiribati, Liberia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nauru, Norway, Palau, Philippines, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South African, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste. I heard about this organization and all the work they do in coordination with Interpol at the fishery and Aquaculture. For instance, representatives from Spain showed us how they chased and caught criminals in the tuna industry committing a fishery crime smuggling tuna to avoid taxes. An NGO also showed the investigation results of money laundry at a feed producer for the aquaculture industry in the Scandinavian countries. It opened my eyes as I learned about topics that currently the tuna industry does not consider priority during assessment or risk in the sourcing policy for instance.

Qualified and competent assessors

Something that was also remarkable and repeated by several speakers, is that the comprehensive outcomes’ report only comes from competent, experienced, and qualified personal or assessors (the 3 components). I was glad to hear about qualified and competent assessors, because currently in the onboard social accountability and crew welfare assessments, there are so many experienced fisheries assessors with no official qualifications, who are not competent enough to carry out a comprehensive and serious onboard social assessment, looking at human rights and crew welfare.

It is something that NGOs and standardization organizations should start to set up to only keep qualified and competent professionals on the field. I referred to this topic before in my article on ILOC 188 a serious matter in the fishing industry. Accreditations bodies and ISO17065 can help to evaluate properly the qualifications and competencies of any fishery experienced person in signing off as a qualified professional.

Majuro, Marshall Islands – auditing traceability and Chain on Custody onboard

Coming back to the topic of fishery crime: the definition

The international declaration on transnational organized crime in the global fishing industry is defined as;

Fisheries crime is an ill-defined legal concept referring to a range of illegal activities in the fisheries sector. These activities – frequently transnational and organized in nature – include illegal fishing, document fraud, drug trafficking, and money laundering. Criminal activities in the fisheries sector are often regarded as synonymous with illegal fishing, which many states do not view or prosecute as criminal offenses, but rather as a fisheries management concern, attracting low and usually administrative penalties. Organized criminal organizations thus engage in fisheries crime with relative impunity due both to low risk and high profits and uncoordinated, ineffective domestic and cross-border law enforcement efforts. This transnational activity includes crimes committed through the whole fisheries supply and value chain which includes illegal fishing, corruption, tax and customs fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, document fraud, and human trafficking.

How is this related to slavery, IUU, and forced labor?

We can see the direct connections to IUU and slavery in the seafood supply chain, for instance, companies committing slavery on the fishing operation may be connected to human trafficking and document fraud.

However, not many NGOs and certifications schemes working on fishing operation, take these elements of fisheries crime into account as part of the NGOs scoring assessment or like a requirement of the certification scheme; in other words, a fishing operation that is committing a fishery crime might be certified and/or get a good scoring, because elements of fishery crimes are not assessed/ not included in the assessment.

Proactive engagement of Governments

At the Fourth Fishcrime Symposium, the ministers created and launched the Copenhagen Declaration – “Declaration on Transnational Organized Crime in the Global Fishing Industry”. The ministers recognized that countries depend on the sea and its resources and the opportunities it holds for the economy, food, and well-being of the local population, and they are determined to support a healthy fishing industry that is based on fair competition and the sustainable use of the ocean.

The profit and the estimated value of fisheries crime as an illicit activity are high and it affects the legal seafood industry. According to the report realized on the Copenhagen Declaration, the illegal fishing aspect of fisheries crime, in economic terms, the value of fish lost to criminal activities alone is suggested to be between $10-23.5 billion annually.

To this figure, one must add the value lost to associated criminal activities in the fisheries sector, such as document fraud, tax evasion, money-laundering, and others.

What to do?

If you are a retailer or buyer, you should ensure that your supplier’ seafood processer is assessed beyond a fishery vessel and crew welfare certification scheme, you should make sure there is a tool that assesses the ethical sourcing of the seafood and ensures that elements mentioned in the fisheries crime are included. NGOs and certification schemes should also ensure that these elements are included in rating and scoring organizations, as well as in the certification requirements.

A responsible model to assess your fishing or aquaculture operation

In 2012 a benchmark tool grounded and rooted in ILOC188 and SA8000 standard was created to assess crew welfare and onboard labor conditions Seafoodmatter, the methodology includes several standards (land-based), guidance, and regulations. Later (2-16), in a joined effort to increase the comprehensive scope, several more standards, guidance, and regulations were added in a project with Terra Moana. Finally, in 2020 this benchmark tool includes also elements of the fisheries crime that are included in the assessment of any fishery and aquaculture operations. Currently, On-board Social Accountability is the only benchmark tool which is assessing more than 32 standards, NGOs guidance, rating organizations, standards, and regulations in one assessment providing a comprehensive final report.


– Go beyond a public commitment and make an impact, implement regulations, guidance, and standards in your organization, follow OSA assessment for creating impact.

– Assess the qualifications of any assessor or auditor that claims to be competent for crew welfare, labor onboard, human rights at sea, and working conditions or in the aquaculture industry

– Assess your current crew welfare, labor, and working conditions against the On-board Social Accountability benchmark tool and methodology to get a comprehensive outlook of your fishery or aquaculture operation

– Recognize that there are more than 30 online sources to assess your fishing operation looking at crew welfare onboard and retailers sourcing policies, which might confuse harvester fishery and aquaculture.

– NGOs and certification schemes for fishery and aquaculture should include fishery crimes requirements or indicators as part of their current requirements or performance indicators.

– Publish your progress in an annual report to enhance trust in the market and in your business partners.

Sustainability without transparency is meaningless

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