EU takes action to combat forced labor in fishing industry

The European Parliament has voted on the Fishing Control Regulation (FCR). This is the biggest fisheries reform in a decade, and has been welcomed with enthusiasm by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EFJ). One of the key aspects of this Regulation is the introduction of mandatory Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) – including CCTV – for a significant portion of the EU fleet, with a view to better monitor compliance with EU rules on the discarding of fish. 

At the same time, the reform allows EU Member States to use remote electronic monitoring systems to make sure other rules of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy are respected.

This is key, as another major advance is the focus on forced labor, as defined in ILO Convention (1930) as a serious infringement of the rules of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The Regulation recognizes that “conducting fishing activities with the use of forced labor is contrary to the objectives of the common fisheries policy” and “undermines a level-playing field”. 

Following the revelations of a recent investigation into China’s distant-water fleet published by Ian Urbina in The New Yorker, these two advances could serve as a potential cornerstone for the EU to lead the global charge in ensuring that other nations follow suit in creating a more just, fair and sustainable fishing industry worldwide, said EJF.

In particular, with the European Parliament’s approval of the FCR reform, it is now time for the European Union to take swift and resolute action on several critical fronts, according to EJF.

  • Mandating REM Internationally: Having provided for the use of REM for a significant portion of its fleet, the European Union should intensify its efforts to create mandatory REM regimes on an international scale, particularly within Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs). RFMOs play a crucial role in regulating fishing activities in various parts of the world’s ocean. EJF has witnessed systemic human rights abuses, including forced labor, in the areas of RFMOs, such as in the Indian Ocean, which must urgently be eradicated. By pushing for the adoption of REM systems, the EU can take the lead in promoting transparency and accountability within RFMOs, thereby safeguarding the rights of vulnerable workers and ensuring ethical and sustainable fishing practices.
  • Addressing Forced Labor: The European Union should lead efforts internationally to take urgent and concrete measures to reduce crew vulnerability to human and labor rights abuse, including by encouraging consistent alignment of rules of RFMOs with international human and labor rights conventions.

The underlying principle here is to level the playing field, put an end to systemic human rights abuses, and prevent the overexploitation of fish stocks upon which many developing countries depend for their livelihoods. 

EJF said that the European Union’s commitment to combating forced labor in the fishing industry, coupled with the implementation of Remote Electronic Monitoring, marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing fight for sustainable and ethical fishing practices.

Steve Trent, CEO and Founder, EJF, said: “By taking a leadership role in the global arena, the EU can inspire other nations to follow suit, ultimately working toward a future where the oceans are protected, workers’ rights are respected, and the global fishing industry operates ethically and responsibly. This is a commendable step toward preserving our marine ecosystems and the millions of lives that depend on them.”

Photo credit: iStock/ curtoicurto

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