Seafood Working Group critiques FISH Standard for Crew

The Seafood Working Group (SWG) released a statement on Tuesday, 20 April, urging seafood retailers and buyers to regard the Fairness, Integrity, Safety, and Health (FISH) Standard for Crew warily in terms of its effectiveness as a “mechanism for the identification of labor abuse on fishing vessels in seafood supply chains.”

The statement, signed by 28 organizations comprising SWG, states that the FISH standard possesses “significant weaknesses in design, application, and monitoring” and “will not provide buyers with credible assurances that the fishers who produce their seafood are treated fairly or have safe and decent conditions of work.” 

Established earlier this year, the FISH Standard for Crew is an accredited, third-party certification program seeking to ensure that fish sold all around the world is harvested by crews who are ethically hired, treated with respect, paid properly, and allowed fair access to address grievance. Its scope is built upon four pillars represented by the name "FISH": fairness, integrity, safety, and health.

The FISH Standard was open for public comment until 8 March, 2021. The program's 11-person board of directors is chaired by Brim Chief Human Resources Officer Fridrik Fridriksson, and Mike Kraft, Bumble Bee's vice president of global sustainability and social responsibility, is its executive director.

According to SWG, the FISH Standard for Crew “will fail to detect labor abuse” as a result of several shortcomings, including:

  • No meaningful role for workers and/or their representatives
  • An ineffective mechanism for identifying labor abuse on fishing vessels (i.e. an audit)
  • No commitment to remediate workers
  • No chain of custody mechanism
  • Selective application of international standards
  • Default to national legal frameworks that may be weaker than international standards
  • Failure to recognize power imbalance between employers and fishers
  • Conflict of interest at multiple levels that undermine rigorous application of the standard

SWG likened the standard to other fisheries certifications developed by the private sector, in that it “[undermines] international norms for fishers and will collectively fail to improve working conditions at sea."

The group called on brands, retailers, and others who work to design social responsibility initiatives within seafood to strive for genuine worker representation as well as “comprehensive and transparent risk assessment and verification of workplace compliance through mandatory Human Rights Due Diligence (mHRDD).”

“Workers, and their unions or other democratic, representative worker organizations, must be involved in all stages of design, training, implementation, and governance of social responsibility projects to improve their wages and working conditions,” SWG said in its statement.

To be in accordance with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, SWG said retailers and brands “have a responsibility to cascade mHRDD requirements throughout their supply chains, down to fishing-vessel level, to ensure that each supply chain actor is regularly conducting due diligence with their upstream suppliers and remediates any labor violations in a timely manner.”

“All social responsibility initiatives that seek to provide credible assurances of decent work should include mandatory human rights due diligence for all participating entities as a first step in any process of accreditation. Effective human rights due diligence initiatives must include rigorous workplace inspections that are effectively independent of brand and retailer influence; public disclosure of names and locations of participating companies; and transparent tracking of human rights performance in the public domain,” the group said.

SWG also advised seafood providers to embrace legally-binding and enforceable agreements, make changes to brand purchasing practices to end systemic labor abuses, and to respect freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

“Respect for labor rights in corporate supply chains cannot be optional or voluntary. Workers need these rights in legally-binding agreements and a mechanism for holding employers and others in the supply chain accountable. These legally-binding agreements should clearly articulate the rights and responsibilities of each party and dispute resolution procedure, as well as provisions that guarantee an effective grievance mechanism, and zero tolerance for reprisals,” according to the collective.

By altering purchasing practices, retailers can incentivize their supply chains, SWG said.

“Buyers must analyze, address, and make changes to their purchasing practices so that they do not contribute to human rights violations, but instead actively support and incentivize suppliers in remediating them,” it stated. “In accordance with ILO core labor standards, brands and retailers must ensure their suppliers promote and respect workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of retaliation."

Photo courtesy of Sura Nualpradid via the Seafood Working Group


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