Labor onboard in the Tuna Industry and ILO fishing convention C188 – A serious matter

Labor onboard in the Tuna Industry and ILO fishing convention C188 – A serious matter

Everything started back in 1999, working initially in a fresh and frozen processing factory as a quality manager in Manta, Ecuador, and also responsible for inspecting the long liner fleet that supplies more than 30 tropical pelagic species on daily basis that I got involved in auditing crew onboard conditions with basic requirements looking only a safety onboard issues.

Back again in 2010, I decided to increase my competence and qualifications in order to assess, evaluate and audit with better tools provide by a SA8000 training for land-based tuna processing facilities. It was a five (5) days full time workshop with study cases that allow to understand and learn audit tools to assess labor conditions, interviews techniques, documentation review and cross check information, in addition, to understand ethics, confidentiality, and several values as an auditor, consultant, and assessor. It was my first approach to a really wide new field – Labor and Crew Welfare in the tuna supply chain industry.

Later in 2011, after shadowing or observing several working conditions’ audits on processing facilities, I decided also to take the SA8000 auditor advance course together with a ISO9001 to become a Lead Assessor to perform assessments from different perspectives and methods.

This was the background and preparation for a very good implementation of worker and working conditions in 5 tuna processing facilities located, one (1) in The Republic of Marshall Islands (Pan Pacific Food) and in the Republic of Papua New Guinea (South Seas Tuna Processing, Frabelle PNG, IFC PNG, and Majestic PNG). Sadly, Not all of them were ready to go for implementing the SA8000 requirements as a gold standard for worker and working conditions on tuna processing facilities (land-based). The implementation included a Gap Analysis, reporting of progress, training in ISO19011 for internal auditors, group and single interviews, the assistance of 5 interpreters to assess properly the worker feedback and great finance of the Pacific Island Fishing Forum Agency (FFA).

After a year of the implementation process, two (2) tuna canneries moved and got the BSCI agreement with their clients and one (1) of the tuna canneries apply for the SA8000 certification. At the end of 2012, another challenge started, to develop a code of conduct for one of the biggest tuna fishery in the Western Central Pacific which was based on the ILOC188.

At that time, anyone in the Western Central Pacific was concerned about Labor and crew Welfare onboard, I would say globally either, it was still a priority to manage the tuna in a sustainable manner and there were no concerns about labor on board of tuna seiners, I just got good support and information from Greenpeace and from two (2) tuna fishing companies based in the Republic of Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands.

Working together, I developed a benchmark tool to assess fishing operations against the best applicable requirement of SA8000 looking from the market perspective and include the ILOC188 convention. The results of this big assessment were presented during the Pacific Tuna Forum 2015 in Fiji (some slides were deleted because of the side of the document).

In my opinion 2015 was a breakpoint year for labor on board issues, since there several initiatives, consultants and organizations started to talk and “work” on labor issues in fishing operations globally. Starting for the United Nations, at a special Summit of the United Nations in New York. The 193 nations commitment to a Socially Responsible Tuna Supply Chain:

We pledge to eliminate any form of slavery and ensure suppliers at least meet minimum social standards in management practices as recommended in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Conventions and Recommendations.

This was a real thumbs up for me!

With my hands on experience and as consultant, since 2014 I have assessed more than 50 farms (shrimp, Seriola, Trout fish, Tilapia and Salmon) looking at labor issues, the aquaculture sector is a bit different from the fishery sector but definitely they both have many synergies and the field experience allowed me and allow me to understand the labor requirements and labor issues complexity, each tuna purse seiner and each aquaculture farm is a unique case with unique challenges and difficulties.

Seafoodmatter - Ocean farm, a cages operation in the Japanese EEZ
Ocean farm, a cages operation in the Japanese EEZ

But the fisheries called me again, in 2016 I have the pleasure to assess the biggest Toothfish fleet in the world, Austral fisheries and carried out a Gap Analysis for labor conditions onboard, difference languages, countries of origin, were the challenges for assessing. On the other hand tha great commitment of the Austral top management to see the degree of the company against the ILO C188 and labor market standards (SA8000, BSCI, SEDEX, SMETA, ETI) was exceptionally good. This was the first stage of a second labor onboard implementation, with the initial Gap Analysis we move to a full implementation stage, setting up a management system, records, internal audits, auditing onboard the fleet, Labor training, capacity building and assessing all the certifications and authorities control that maritime industry already request to any fishing operation. The partnership with TERRA MOANA, was a key point of the success of this implementation. The dynamics created in this cooperation with Austral, Terra Moana and Seafoodmatter end up with a complete and very comprehensive labor policy and management system.

By 2017, In the Pacific Tuna Forum in Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, I was invited again to talk about Social Accountability and Crew Welfare on the tuna supply chain. I saw a lot of progress in several tuna players, harvesters, tuna fishing companies, processors, retailers and distributors asking for labor requirements to be implemented, including in the organization policies and controlling the suppliers in the supply chain.

Early this year (2018), I joined as an auditor and member to a group of long experience professionals on labor auditing and crew onboard assessments in order to audit one of the most complex tuna supply chain in the world. Including the tuna purse seiners audited in this occasion, I have compared, audited and collected information in fleet from different flags: Ecuadorian, Papua New Guinea, Spanish, Panamanian, Philippino, and The United states tuna seiners – no bad for these years.

The same year, I provide training or better said a workshop in a webinar organized by Seafoodsource, the workshop explained the entire labor and welfare implementation and competences of a consultant, because not everyone is capable or qualified to assess and provide fair and objective outcomes. With the experience obtained in the complex field, I was invited to be part of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Labor steering group, where a group of stakeholders and consultants advice MSC about this topic.

Currently, I have participated as a member of the working group of the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) which is a benchmark tool for labor standard looking at requirements in land-based operations, aquaculture operations and fishing operations. I feel honored as a Dolphin in the Sea.

Seafoodmatter - Tuna processing factory in China
Tuna processing factory in China

Finally, at the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), where I am part of the team of Science & Standard, I also have participated as member of the labor requirement review. It is really great to work with highly qualified colleagues, consultants with plenty of experience in aquaculture and processing. As usual, I enjoy my work, learn every day and delivery the best solutions to improve the responsible management of Seafood operations.

I received with so much pleasure the ratification of ILOC188 by Thailand because I see a “domino effect” in the tuna supply chain; and the processing sector will increasingly request the global suppliers to comply with these requirements.

Next time, I will write about the development of a Responsible model, talking beyond certifications and benchmark.

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