We need this and other tools because currently we have to accept that transparency in the global fishing industry is poor, and for understandable reasons. The industry conducts business across a huge expanse of the planet’s geography. It begins with the capture of fish at sea. Processing takes place at sea or onshore, while sales can take place far inland. Like many industries, the fishing industry has yet to embrace the benefits of current technologies comprehensively and, in truth, most risk and information technologies are not readily affordable to the majority of fishing industry participants. In addition, the fishing industry has tens of millions of participants across the globe, from those at sea to those with stalls at the local market1. There’s a small number of massive, multinational companies, but there are tens of millions of small businesses in the industry. As Ian Urbina showed in his New York Times piece, Sea Slaves, in 2015, society and the industry as a whole are still, to a great degree, ignorant about the occurrence of human rights abuses at sea and the governance needed to create a reliable framework to report and enforce laws. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency leaves many dark places where exploitation of both people and the environment occurs.
Over the last five years, significant changes in the laws and regulations around human rights have created a range of liabilities on businesses in relation to their operations that are engaged in or connected to forms of exploitation. Most companies are familiar with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and the UK’s Modern Slavery Act. The UK also recently passed the UK Criminal Finances Act that creates liability for those profiting from human rights abuses, which includes trafficking and other forms of exploitation. France has adopted a human rights due diligence law and the Netherlands an anti-child labor law. Australia is now considering the idea of a modern slavery law and just as pertinently, perhaps even more so, changes in banking and finance must also be considered.
Still, there’s a long way to go for the seafood industry and the wider society. The publicly available articles and reports used in the methodology of the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool to establish the risk ratings are the patches of light in an otherwise overcast and grim outlook. A piece by the UK's Environmental Justice Foundation on slavery and the fishing industry noted that the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking reported 59% of trafficked migrants interviewed on Thai fishing vessels had witnessed the murder of a fellow worker. We know these statistics because there has been so much attention on the Thai fishing industry from international governments, the Thai government, global and local civil society, law enforcement, and the seafood industry itself. There are other global fisheries that have received far less attention and where evidence is much more limited than in those concerning Thailand.
Users searching the internet for comfort will find few claims of 100% guaranteed transparency and abuse-free seafood products in the world. But there are good reasons to be optimistic that society is heading in the right direction for the future. While rapidly developing new technologies are unlikely to be silver bullets that solve problems of abuse at sea in the short-term, they hold considerable potential to increase transparency in the seafood industry and significantly alter the conditions that fishermen work under.
This year opened with exciting news. The Globalfishingwatch.org transparency platform, an initiative primarily funded by The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and supported by Google, Skytruth, and Oceana, intends to launch a publicly accessible map of fishing vessels and refrigerated cargo tankers. This platform will allow us to identify and track operations like Thailand's “Ghost Fleet.”
Global Fishing Watch CEO Tony Long said in an interview with The Modern Farmer that he “envisioned a day when supermarket shoppers will be able to scan the label on any package of tuna or shrimp with their phones and see a map that shows where, by whom, and under what conditions the fish was caught.” The Modern Farmer article reports, “Already Boston-based importer and wholesaler, East Bay Seafood, plans to incorporate the Global Fishing Watch map into the daily inventory list it sends retailer.”
Other groups are using a different kind of technology, blockchain, to bring nearcomplete transparency from tag to table. Undercurrent News reports that WWF in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand have teamed up with TraSeable to introduce blockchain technology to enhance the traceability of fresh and frozen tuna. Blockchain technology will help buyers know that their tuna is “legally-caught, sustainable tuna with no slave labor or oppressive conditions involved.”
Take a look at blockchain explained here.
Banking, money laundering, and the seafood industry
Just as much as we need to employ new technologies, we also need to update our mindset around human trafficking and forced labor at sea. Activists previously framed forced labor, human trafficking, and hazardous child labor as ethical issues – and indeed they are. Fundamental rights to freedom from slavery in all its forms (including forced labor and human trafficking) are enshrined in international conventions along with children’s rights not to be exploited in child labor and have their health, safety, education, and so on put at risk.
Very often, however, people fail to recognize that forced labor and human trafficking are activities comprised of many criminal offenses, including deceiving people into work, theft of possessions such as passports, fraud that forces people into debt bondage, false imprisonment on vessels, bribery to officials, violence, sexual assault, and murder. Furthermore, many of these stages of exploitation may require working with organized crime.
Profit from human trafficking and forced labor in fishing is linked to activities such as money laundering, tax evasion, and Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing – all of which can be criminal offenses in their own right. Indeed, businesses need to recognize that the issue at hand is not merely living up to ethical expectations around human rights but also one of association with punishable criminal offenses.
Financial institutions have obligations under anti-money laundering laws to report transactions by their clients that are proceeds from a crime, so they’re keen to avoid clients earning their revenues from illicit activities like trafficking, forced labor, and slavery, which can involve many crimes. Unlike the fishing industry, banks have had to invest heavily in robust compliance and intelligence-gathering about the fishing industry and money entering the financial system. Liberty Asia has prepared this short animation targeted to their work with financial institutions that shows the relationship between the fishing industry, criminal exploitation, and money laundering.
Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones, and other organizations that provide risk management and due diligence services to financial institutions are working to give their clients daily information and data about businesses and people with a history of involvement with exploitative activities. And to help their clients reduce their risk, due diligence organizations servicing investors such as the Blackpeak Group in Asia, are also providing knowledge about the fishing industry.
Due diligence on the people and places you do business
There’s increasing liability, increasing transparency and from the banks, increasing concern they’re exposed to money earned from activities of criminal exploitation such as trafficking and forced labor. For businesses in the seafood and fishing industries, adopting ongoing due diligence and monitoring will provide assistance to identify risk business partners.
Due diligence tools
The below search tools go beyond Google for due diligence profiling. Some services are more expensive than others, and some are priced per search. Here are three examples, but do email us for more ideas.
Finally, try to get a wider perspective
Watch out for notices from organizations such as the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, NGOs, UN agencies, Interpol, Europol, and various think tanks, including:
The International Labour Organization, a global UN agency and the leading organization to improve rights at work.
The UN Action for Cooperation against Trafficking in Persons, which has a library of publications on fishing and slavery.
INTERPOL Purple Notices that cover certain fishing issues and human trafficking.
NEXUS Institute, a key global research organization and resource for research into modern slavery.
Fish Crime, an alliance bringing different organizations together to tackle fisheries crime, which includes multiple offenses such as corruptly obtained permits and licenses, document fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, kidnapping, human trafficking, and drug trafficking.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a lead organization in the fight against fisheries crime.