1. Oslo Conference

    International Conference on Labour Exploitation in the Fishing Sector in the Atlantic Region

    On 25-26 November 2016, the ILO convened, in Olso, Norway, an international conference to discuss good practices and innovative interventions to tackle labour exploitation in the fishing sector, and to explore the responsibilities of flag States, coastal States, port States and fishers’ national States.

Forced labour and human trafficking in fisheries

How is the fisheries sector affected by forced labour?

A string of recent reports indicate that forced labour and human trafficking in the fisheries sector are a severe problem. These reports suggest that fishers, many of them migrant workers, are vulnerable to severe forms of human rights abuse on board fishing vessels. Migrant workers in particular are vulnerable to being deceived and coerced by brokers and recruitment agencies and forced to work on board vessels under the threat of force or by means of debt bondage.

Victims describe illness, physical injury, psychological and sexual abuse, deaths of crewmates, and their vulnerability on board vessels in remote locations of the sea for months and years at a time. Fishers are forced to work for long hours at very low pay, and the work is intense, hazardous and difficult. Capture fisheries have one of the highest occupational fatality rates in the world.

Why are fishers particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking?

Recent trends within the fisheries sector, such as overfishing, illegal fishing, and a shift in sourcing the workforce from high-income to middle- and lowincome countries mean that more relatively low cost migrant workers are employed by the fisheries sector. Lack of training, inadequate language skills, and lack of enforcement of safety and labour standards make these fishers particularly vulnerable to forced labour and human trafficking.

The link between forced labour and other fisheries crime

There are also strong indicators that forced labour in the fisheries sector is frequently linked to other forms of transnational organized fisheries crime. The term “fisheries crime” recently appeared in the context of emerging practical responses against offences committed within the fisheries sector.

Offences include severe cases of illegal fishing, related offences from document fraud, corruption and tax evasion but also human trafficking in the fisheries sector. Fisheries crime threatens marine ecosystems and has consequences for fish stocks. It has an impact on food security and sustainable fishing by coastal communities around the world. It also deeply affects human lives when it entails forced labour of trafficked fishermen.

The ILO response

In response to the growing concern of forced labour and human trafficking in the fishing sector, ILO is developing a 5 year, holistic, multifaceted and integrated programme "Global Action Programme against forced labour and trafficking of fishers at sea" (GAPfish).

The programme aims to become a cross-cutting global initiative that will have regional and national impacts to promote and protect fishers’ human and labour rights with the following outcomes:
  • Development of sustainable solutions to prevent human and labour rights abuses of fishers in recruitment and transit states;
  • Enhancement of capacity for flag states to ensure compliance with international and national laws on board vessels flying their flag to prevent forced labour;
  • Increased capacity of port states to address and respond to situations of forced labour in fishing;
  • Establishment of a more knowledgeable consumer base of forced labour in fisheries.