Framing social responsibility in fisheries / by Francisco Blaha

It has been quite busy lately, full last week of my yearly visits to Majuro and preparing a workplan full of new challenges and gear for our port operations there, followed up by over 22 hrs flight (each way) to Namibia to do a workshop on the minimal MCS elements for even start talking about a CDS and the ways to overcome the shortcomings of the EU Catch Certification Scheme by building up your domestic systems at home.

good luck my friend

good luck my friend

Yet I’m slowly diving into my “new” contract for FAO as a Senior Expert in Social Guidance and Fishery Value Chain. Is strange to be invited to work on a topic outside my usual specialities, that is the reason I was so doubtful… I can imagine how shitty must feel to people that has been working on this for a long time, and then some ex fisherman / become consultant that work on IUU on tuna and writes a blog, get to be responsible to make position paper for FAO. 

I guess the reason is because people at FAO know me and trust me, and as far as I know they asked around and most people was happy to see me involved, I can only assume that is based on a realistic and unbiased view of my sector.

I think that when people are in my present position, you have two choices: either I surround yourself with people that are less knowledgeable than me so I look smart, or I look for people that really know their stuff, then you listen, learn and make sure that the doors to the decision makers I have access too (from all these years in fishing) remain open, and perhaps a bit of “these guys are with me” when getting looked down by part of the sector that may resist change. 

The 1st option has been always a no, so the 2nd one was the way to go. Hence I contacted Katrina Nakamura, whom I have known now for a few years and recently published a brilliant paper I blogged here, if she was keen to work with me on this, and I’m really happy she accepted.

Since getting on the job, I been reading a lot and trough Katrina and Jack Kittinger (whom I also recently meet) and I was quite taken by this little one sent to Science “Committing to socially responsible seafood”, was written by by a cast of thousands and I only so far I got to a few of them (besides Katrina and jack) I know Aurora Alifano and Mariah Boyle from fishwise and Jonathan Peacey from NZ that used to be with Conservation International at the time.

 In any case, they developed a comprehensive framework for social responsibility, responding to a need for alignment around a shared, transdisciplinary approach, informed by a strong scientific basis to support policy and practice. 

I quote parts below, yet read the original

 Policy instruments such as the International Labour Organization’s Work in Fishing Convention, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale Fisheries, and the UN’s guiding principles on business and human rights are already being used by governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations as the basis for action on specific issues, such as human rights and labor. Our framework unites a diverse set of social issues that have heretofore been fragmented and is informed by social science research on human rights, natural resource management, and international development.

Our framework is also informed by practical experience from organisations and experts that work in the seafood sector and is supported by a strong legal and policy basis for implementation, as indicated by review of international law, policy, and guidance (table S1).

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Over the past several decades, the scientific community has invested sizeable effort in determining key elements for environmental sustainability in fisheries standards. A similar effort is now needed for social responsibility, yet comparatively little research effort has been invested in the social dimensions of seafood sustainability. 

As a result, the seafood sector has largely been in a reactive stance, responding to visible issues associated with slavery and human rights. Although these egregious violations must be eliminated, social responsibility encompasses far more, and a narrow focus overlooks other pervasive issues that have real-world impacts on billions of people.

 The framework comprises three components:

  • (i) protecting human rights and dignity and respecting access to resources,

  • (ii) ensuring equality and equitable opportunities to benefit, and

  • (iii) improving food and livelihood security.

Protecting human rights requires that fundamental human rights are respected, labor rights are protected, and decent working conditions and safety standards are provided, particularly for at-risk groups. Human rights violations range in severity from the most egregious, such as slavery, to less acute but pervasive practices such as abrogation of wages, poor working conditions, and restrictions on freedoms. Violation of these rights in the seafood industry has been observed in both developing and developed economies. 

A largely overlooked, but critical, aspect of human rights is rights to resources, including traditional tenure and access rights. These social, economic, and cultural rights are central to many indigenous management systems and are especially relevant in small- scale and customary fisheries that supply most of the catch for direct human consumption but where regulatory institutions to protect fishers’ interests are generally lacking. 

Ensuring that seafood is equitably produced requires that benefits derived from its production accrue to all participants in the supply chain (e.g., fishers, processors, and distributors), not just those with not just those with financial or political power. 

Ensuring equality requires that workers receive appropriate recognition, voice, and engagement, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or socioeconomic status. Marginalized groups, such as women, are often discounted in terms of their role, knowledge, or influence in fisheries, and the high prevalence of migrant labor in the seafood industry can create conditions ripe for discrimination. Failure to recognise issues of equity and social justice can result in misguided policies, often with consequences for small- scale producers, minorities, or women.

Improving food and livelihood securityrequires that ocean-dependent communities, some of the most vulnerable people in the world, do not suffer from the global seafood trade. In coastal fisheries in Africa, for example, extraction by foreign fleets is reducing the availability of fish, the main source of animal protein, affecting both nutritional and income security. Such practices place vulnerable populations at risk and run counter to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Businesses are obligated under international policy to ensure that their practices do not undermine food and livelihood security, including providing fair access to markets and preserving capabilities for workers to generate income in the face of social and environmental change. Businesses can do more than mitigate their impact and should seek to improve livelihood conditions where they operate and ensure food security where seafood is a critical component of diets .

This framework can aid in global alignment among governments, businesses, civil society and nonprofit organizations, driving integration of social responsibility into policy, practice, and ultimately performance in the sector. Here, we identify opportunities for the scientific community to support this transition by providing relevant knowledge to inform actionable approaches toward social outcomes.

First, ocean science must evolve, incorporating a stronger focus on social dimensions and their linkages to environmental issues. Social science is embedded in sustainability science, but key social science concepts such as agency, inequality, and social justice are missing from many sustainability efforts, and social science research capacity in the sector is woefully inadequate. 

Environmental challenges -including habitat destruction, overfishing, and resource collapse- threaten the viability of livelihoods and food security and create conditions for discrimination  and subversion of human rights. Social and environmental issues often overlap in the same geographies, such as Southeast Asia, a hotspot of overfishing and labor issues. In these areas, slavery and forced labor depress the true cost of extraction, which distorts the market and promotes overexploitation. 

The research community can play a timely and important role in assessing the linkages between environmental sustainability and social issues, bringing necessary expertise together to inform responses by businesses, government, nonprofits, and communities. The UN SDGs explicitly recognise the link between ecosystem health and human well- being, but more integrated approaches need to be developed to address these issues in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Second, the scientific community has a major role to play in research, monitoring, and analysis of the seafood sector, including developing rigorous, objective approaches to evaluate performance. Evidence-based assessments are needed to understand the scale of social abuses and the efficacy of approaches, particularly as governments begin to translate existing international laws, policies, and guidance (table S1) into domestic laws, regional initiatives, and regulations to improve industry practices. Social science provides a strong foundation for these approaches, and existing performance indicators and tools need to be adapted to meet this challenge. 

The research community can also integrate social responsibility indicators into globally accepted performance standards for sustainable seafood by ratings and certification schemes, reducing the prevalence of social abuses and risks for businesses. Continued development of research approaches, tools, and technologies will be critical, particularly to ensure transparency and accountability, to reduce risk and secure market incentives for businesses, and to produce credible information while considering the sensitivity and risk associated with researching these issues.

Third, the research community must be responsive to real-world needs. The current level of commitment to integrating the priorities of stakeholders and decision-makers into research is inadequate. This requires more than simply training and hiring more social scientists in the sector, it requires a shift in 

  • the way social and environmental research is conceptualised and conducted together with stakeholders, 

  • the expertise prioritised in the development of research capacity and initiatives, and 

  • the level  of resources directed toward these issues. 

This requires prioritising the coproduction of knowledge with the scientific community engaged together with stakeholders in a participatory approach to develop re- search initiatives that have a clear pathway for implementation in practice. The ocean science community can benefit from experience in other production sectors -including agriculture, forestry, energy, and mining- that have addressed similar challenges by investing in shared strategies, a strong multidisciplinary evidence base, and collaborative institutional arrangements and global research networks.

By 2030, the oceans will need to supply 152 to 188 million metric tons of seafood to nourish a growing population. Fulfilling this demand in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner will require increased investment from public and private sources, so that the level of resources and expertise committed is commensurate with the scale of these challenges. Across the sector, organisations that work on environmental sustainability issues will need to work more closely with socially focused organisations, as these issues are intrinsically linked and require joint investments. 

The global conversation about social issues presents an opportunity for the seafood sector to take steps to ensure that a healthy ocean will support human well-being, now and into the future.