Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, one day in a month designated as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month when we shine a light on the often invisible victims of a prolific crime. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are nearly 25 million victims of labor trafficking around the world, generating $150 billion in illegal profits each year.
A recent ILRF blog explores how to help some of the least visible and most vulnerable of all – migrant workers trapped at sea on commercial fishing vessels. Overfishing forces vessels to travel greater distances to find fish, and transshipment allows vessels to stay out for long periods of time, meaning workers can be trapped at sea for months and years at a time. Horrific stories of workers forced to work 20-hour days with no pay for years, living in degrading conditions and in constant threat of serious injury from dangerous conditions, have been documented in many of the world’s fishing fleets. Debt bondage is prevalent among these workers, while written contracts, effective grievance mechanisms and even basic communication are all lacking.
Although some seafood industry leaders have acknowledged the problem, the solutions proposed to date follow a common playbook with which ILRF is all too familiar: voluntary codes of conduct paired with third-party audits paid for by the companies whose supply chains are being monitored. These methods have failed workers time and again, and will fail workers on fishing vessels because they fail to change the power dynamics between workers and employers. Seafood suppliers and retailers have yet to make meaningful commitments that ensure workers in their supply chains have access to effective remedy, leaving workers vulnerable to trafficking.
ILRF is calling for a different approach. We have developed four “Essential Elements of Effective Social Responsibility in the Seafood Sector,” and are working with partners in Thailand to test how they can be realized in a pilot project called Independent Monitoring at Sea (IM@SEA). The project aims to not only increase worker protections at sea, but ensure the seafood caught is ecologically sustainable and more traceable, so consumers have the information they need to make better choices.
Check out our blog to learn more, and raise your awareness today about how we can make sure these invisible workers are not forgotten.
Thanks for all you do,