There’s growing consumer interest in knowing where your food comes from. In some cases, it came from a corporate farm. In others, it passed through the hands of slaves on its way to the supermarket.
The latter is most often the case with fish—so much so that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program has launched a new Seafood Slavery Risk Tool. The online database rates the likelihood of forced human labor, human trafficking, and other inhumane practices occurring on fishing vessels. Businesses that buy and sell fish can then identify any high-risk links in their supply change and, we hope, make a change when necessary.
To create the tool, The Seafood Watch Program teamed up with Liberty Asia, who aims to prevent human trafficking, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. Using sources like investigative reports, academic publications, NGO reports, and inter-governmental publications, the database organizes evidence and explains how it factors into each fishery’s rating.
Users enter a type of fish into the database to pull up information about the fisheries catching that species: where they fish, who governs the body of water, and how high-risk that fishery is when it comes to human rights issues (see the full methodology). For example, entering “bigeye tuna” tells us that multiple organizations govern the waters where this species is caught and that this area is rated ‘Critical’ for risk of human rights abuses. It also explains why that rating applies.
Fisheries get a rating of Low Risk, Moderate Risk, High Risk, and Critical Risk. Disturbingly, Critical shows up most frequently of all the ratings, though it’s not totally surprising. Of the $34 billion of seafood products imported into the United States alone, the majority come from just a handful of countries: China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Canada, and Ecuador. Most of these countries lack the kinds of standards and regulations that make things like sustainable fishing and worker protection possible.
The tool’s launch follows the release of a long report from Human Rights Watch about the devastating conditions for workers on Thailand fishing boats. Despite substantial media attention in recent years, beatings, trafficking, child labor, and even killings of migrant workers continue, with the report noting that “in some aspects, the situation has gotten worse.”
“Human rights abuses in the seafood industry are an endemic and ongoing problem,” noted Sustainable Fisheries Partnership CEO and founder Jim Cannon. “We’re proud to be involved with the development of what we believe will be a valuable tool for the industry to help prevent these kinds of abuses from occurring.”
Changing conditions for workers in the fishing industry will take a long time, as will the laws surrounding them. At the very least, though, this new tool makes social responsibility a little bit easier for businesses—and the issues at hand more transparent for consumers.