When the Outlaw Ocean was first published in 2019 it sent shockwaves through the global seafood industry. Consumers as well were shocked to hear about the lives of fishers on the high seas – the awful working conditions, abuse and exploitation rampant in this sector.
For the ITF however, this came as no surprise. Indeed, our inspectors in various ports have helped Ian Urbina access vessels and speak to crew. We were able to support his journalism to highlight these (ongoing) issues to the world, issues that ITF have been confronted with in various regions of the world for decades.
Since then the Outlaw Ocean Project has gone from strength to strength, highlighting the lawless and dangerous reality that underpins large parts of the global seafood industry – an industry which, according to the UN FAO netted 90 million tonnes of seafood worth $141 billion in 2020, through marine capture fisheries. This total doesn’t include up to $20 billion worth of seafood from IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fisheries.
The most recent publication by the Outlaw Ocean Project however has had even bigger reverberations and impact, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Several suppliers to the US and EU markets were listed in the report and links from the South Atlantic squid fishery into the Irish market were also covered – a significant finding from the ITF’s perspective.
Trade union action
The investigation highlighted the significance of Montevideo in Uruguay to the Chinese distant water fleet that targets squid – much of which enters the EU market.
The ITF are working with our affiliated trade unions from Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina to collaborate to end IUU fishing, and ensure decent work for all fishers – starting with campaigns to ratify the work in fishing convention (C188). This is the minimum standard for fishers, but in Latin America only Argentina (where ITF have strong fisheries affiliates) have ratified and implemented the ILO the convention.
Even more shockingly the report showed how forced labour carried out by members of Chinas Uyghur population in seafood processing was also ending up on UK and EU dinner tables. While the UK industry body Seafish have responded to the evidence, there have been reactions from some UK retailers who have cut ties with the Chinese processing company they had been buying from.
Members of ETI welcome these reports as this adds weight to the urgent and clear need for mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence (HRDD) legislation to help ensure decent work in seafood supply chains. The upcoming EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive for 2024 on mandatory HRDD is positive development – as is the inclusion of capture fisheries as a high-risk sector with lower thresholds on companies in terms of turnover and employees who need to conduct HRDD.
Ruwan Subasinghe, Legal Director at the ITF and ETI Board Member said:
“The latest Outlaw Ocean report once again demonstrates the clear relationship between IUU fishing, criminality, and decent work deficits. It is critical that fisheries are recognised as a high-risk sector for human rights abuse necessitating heightened due diligence by seafood buyers. Corporate accountability legislation has a big role to play in helping clean up the industry.”
Listen to the Outlaw Ocean podcast, for a closer look at the findings.