Human Rights and the Seafood Industry

Mekong Seafood Market

Today is Human Rights Day, established by the United Nations in 1950 to highlight the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard that should be adopted by all nations. Article 4 of the Declaration states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” However, slavery and other human rights abuses remain a serious problem in commercial industries around the world, including the seafood industry. Earlier this year, we summarized a report produced by the sustainable seafood non-profit FishWise that explores the issue of forced labor in the seafood industry (see Is Your Seafood Slavery Free?). Despite the efforts of many seafood companies to improve the environmental sustainability of the fish they provide, the report notes, many are unaware that the fisheries they support are linked to human rights violations.

A more recent version of the report highlighted the results of a survey FishWise conducted at the beginning of this year, which assessed opinions of human rights issues among members of the seafood industry, NGOs, and seafood consumers. While 88 percent of NGO respondents and 59 percent of industry respondents felt that human rights are a problem in seafood supply chains, only 39 percent of consumers agreed, and 55 percent of consumers were unsure. However, most consumers responded that human rights were important to them, and they would stop buying a product if it were associated with human rights abuses. Most seafood companies surveyed also stated that human rights were very important to their industry, and felt it was the company’s responsibility to ensure that their supply chains are abuse free. However, the majority of companies did not acknowledge or agree that human rights abuses were a problem in their own supply chains.

Seafood slavery is a global issue, with hotspots in Southeast Asia and West Africa, but it hits close to home when it’s linked to the seafood we buy. We hope more seafood consumers will become aware of this reality, and that industry members will dig deep to address these problems at their source. FishWise pointed out the need for conservation NGOs, human rights experts, and the seafood industry to make connections and share expertise to tackle this challenging issue. We hope that Human Rights Day can serve as encouragement to keep this conversation moving forward every day, and to find ways to provide seafood to all without violating the rights of any.