ASEAN issues declaration protecting migrant fishers
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) unanimously approved a declaration strengthening measures to protect migrant fishers at the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia, on 10 May.
ASEAN is a political and economic compact that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It previously passed the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP), but that agreement did not specifically address migrant laborers in the fishing industry.
The Declaration on the Placement and Protection of Migrant Fishers calls for ASEAN member states to take a range of actions to improve their policies concerning and treatment of migrant fishers, aimed at improving their recruitment, placement, and return from work experiences; improving their working conditions; addressing and punishing violence, abuse, and exploitation; guaranteeing the delivery of contracts in the native language of the migrant laborers; access to means of communication with third parties; improving the availability of legal recourse for mistreated fishers; and ensuring fair and timely payment for work and better treatment of their families.
The declaration also calls for the initiation of bilateral or multilateral agreements to secure safe migration, repatriation, and reintegration of migrant fishers; strengthening of institutional capacities of ASEAN nations in their ability to conduct labor inspections, provide grievance mechanisms, and improve communication with migrant fishers. And the declaration calls for performing more data-collection to ensure safe and positive working conditions onboard fishing vessels in ASEAN waters or staffed with citizens of ASEAN countries, and collaboration and partnership with other countries and international organizations with the mission of protecting migrant workers onboard fishing vessels.
Furthermore, the declaration makes it official policy that ASEAN nations pursue joint efforts to “mainstream the protection of migrant fishers in all relevant migration policies, mechanisms and processes of ASEAN and its member states, including with those of ASEAN’s external partners, international organizations, and other relevant international entities.”
The agreement tasks the labor ministries of ASEAN nations to mobilize resources for the implementation of the declaration.
“ASEAN member states are among the world’s top producers and exporters of fish and seafood products as well as the top origin countries of migrant fishers,” the declaration said. “Fishing is a hard-to-reach sector and could be a hazardous occupation which aggravates the vulnerabilities of migrant fishers to the risk of decent work deficits including but not limited to unacceptable working and living conditions on board fishing vessels, abusive recruitment practices, and inadequate labor inspection. [This document acknowledges] that the migrant fishers are migrant workers whose rights are an inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of human rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and that they are entitled to the same rights and protection as other migrant workers as provided for in the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.”
It is the responsibility of ASEAN member states” to protect and fulfill the rights of migrant fishers in the entire migration cycle and to prevent and combat forced labor, child labor and trafficking in persons in fishing vessels considering the proximity and connecting borders of ASEAN member states,” the document said.
The Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative, an independent policy advocacy group established to promote ocean policies adhering to principles of sustainable development, praised the accord.
“This declaration is the first step for ASEAN to enhance cooperation between ASEAN member states regarding the protection of migrant fishers from ASEAN,” it said.
Greenpeace USA Senior Human Rights Advisor Sari Heidenreich said the declaration “represents a crucial step toward protecting the rights of Southeast Asian migrant fishers and ending forced labor and human trafficking practices in the fishing industry.”
“This declaration, which underscores the importance of protecting the rights and well-being of all workers, regardless of their origin or occupation, follows years of active campaigning by human rights advocates and civil society organizations in the region, including the Greenpeace network, to push for stronger policies to protect the rights of Southeast Asian migrants working in fisheries,” Heidenreich said.
Greenpeace, the Environmental Justice Foundation, and other non-governmental organizations have found pervasive abuse of migrant workers in the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. Greenpeace also backed the issuance of two other declarations at the ASEAN summit, one issuance guidance for the protection of migrant workers and family members in crisis situations, and the other combating human trafficking abetted by the abuse of technology.
Heidenreich said all nations must play a more active role in ridding labor abuse from the global fishing sector.
“Workers everywhere deserve to thrive, not just survive, yet this is far from the case right now,” Heidenreich said. “We hope this momentum will lead to additional actions that improve worker protection, such as an increase in the number of countries ratifying the International Labour Organization (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention 188 (C-188), a vital step to ensuring decent working conditions on fishing vessels, particularly for countries that have large fishing fleets.”
Photo courtesy of International Labour Organization