Upholding the Rights of Seafood Workers in COVID-19

Across the globe, people are affected by the pandemic in a myriad of different ways. We wanted to better understand the impacts on the people working in the seafood industry, so we hosted a two-part webinar with human rights experts and worker representatives from around the world to hear about the challenges workers are facing and what businesses can be doing to protect them.  

What we learned  

The challenges already faced by vulnerable groups like migrants, women, and LGBT+ people are exacerbated by the pandemic. Seafood workers from these communities are disproportionately impacted.  

Perhaps most vulnerable amongst these groups are migrant workers. Factors such as debt, discrimination in government policy and benefitslanguage barriers and lack of information are all severely worsening the already challenging circumstances for migrant workers. Closed borders have trapped many migrant workers outside of their home countries, and restrictions on freedom of association and bargaining rights mean that these vulnerable groups are unable to self-organize to demand the protections they need. With high levels of debt as a result of exploitative recruitment fees and decreasing oversight on the water, forced labor is likely increasing.  

To improve the circumstances of migrants, and other vulnerable groups of seafood workers, solutions must consider not only the pandemic, but also look ahead to future crises. If we want long-term, effective improvements, businesses have an important role to play.  

Here are three key actions seafood businesses can take to protect workers in their supply chains:  

  1. Build trust. Seafood supply chains that have performed best in the pandemic are those with strong relationships throughout, from buyer, to supplier, to producer — including migrant workers and fisher organizations.  
  2. Share information. Companies that provide resources and information to workers in culturally and technologically appropriate ways (i.e. those that consider language needs and effective modes of delivery) will help keep employees safer because they are better informed. 
  3. Be accountable. It is crucial that companies take steps toward identifying vulnerable groups in their supply chains and prioritizing them in their human rights due diligence efforts. 

Today, more than ever, we are faced with the reality of inequality in seafood supply chains. Company action is critical to enacting safeguards to protect vulnerable people in tumultuous times. Together, NGOs and companies can build structures that serve people and create more equitable food systems. The Alliance community is hard at work collaborating with NGOs, experts, and companies to create these shifts, motivated by the desire to empower people and create a better future for all.   

Special thanks to our panelists: Elena Arengo (International Labor Rights Forum), Angela Kim Saunders (International Organization for Migration), Allison Lee (Yilan Migrant Fishermen’s Union), Ines Lopez (Comunidad y Biodiversidad), Francis West (Shift), and Neill Wilkins (Institute for Human Rights & Business). 

What we’re reading 

Everything changes: local solutions of small-scale fishers for adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic – Comuidad y Biodiversidad 

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on small-scale producers and workers – Oxfam International 

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