Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit addresses seafood industry's human rights problem

Patima Tungpuchaykul discusses her work at the Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit

The first fully in-person Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit (TSSS) in four years – after online-only events throughout the Covid-19 pandemic – ran from 17 to 19 October, and the event highlighted human rights issues in the seafood supply chain in the wake of the bombshell Outlaw Ocean Project report on 9 October.

Since its inception in 2015, the event, co-hosted and financially supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, has served as a networking platform for seafood companies and environmental NGOs to share ideas and discuss solutions to sustainability issues the industry is facing.

This year’s edition covered many topics related to sustainability, but human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain were the main focus. TSSS added human rights to the event’s program in 2022, as global efforts to tackle the issue in the seafood industry have increased.

For example, the Havant, U.K.-based organization Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) in February 2023 issued a report titled “Does it Do What it Says on the Tin?” that rates eco-labels on their alignment with its HRAS Key Performance Indicators. Most scored a zero, underscoring the long path forward for the seafood industry and the necessity of continued discussions on the topic. The Marine Stewardship Council has also emphasized that human rights is outside its core mission, but has in the past highlighted the topic as a key component of its future goals. 

The timing of the TSSS coincidentally aligned with the publication of Outlaw Oceans’ report, once again bringing the topic of human rights to the forefront of industry sustainability discussions. The report alleged that members of the ethnic Uyghur minority group were relocated and forced to work in Chinese seafood-processing facilities in the eastern province of Xinjiang. This prompted many U.S. retailers to respond quickly to the allegations by severing or reevaluating their relationships with the involved processors.

A discussion at the summit titled “Human Rights Abuses in the Seafood Supply Chain and the Global Effort to Tackle the Issues” gave an overview of international efforts to deal with human rights issues in which Japanese seafood market players may be complicit. It also covered future actions companies can take to resolve these issues.

Patima Tungpuchaykul, the founder and program manager of the Samut Sakhon, Thailand-headquartered Labour Protection Network Foundation (LPN), offered her expertise on the issue by talking about the work of her organization, which not only investigates and advocates for vulnerable migrant workers but also stages rescue missions when necessary. Between 2014 and 2016, LPN rescued about 2,000 captive and stranded fishermen from isolated Indonesian islands, an action that subsequently became the subject of a documentary film titled "Ghost Fleet."

In addition to these missions, the group offers post-rescue services such as healthcare, trauma services, shelter, and legal support; creates safe spaces for migrant children to learn, integrate into local schools, and build a new life in Thailand; researches, develops, and translates rights education materials; advocates for policy change; and conducts labor rights training.

Tungpuchaykul said ... 

Photo courtesy of the Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit

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