Joining nets across countries and waters to better protect fishers and their stock

News | 04 February 2022
Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire (ILO News) – Where illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a serious problem, abusive working conditions, including cases of forced labour, are likely to be found on deck.

This is what evidence has shown, and this is the message the International Labour Organization (ILO) has taken to West Africa to explore new collaboration with the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea (FCWC), a regional fisheries body based in Tema and of which Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo are members.

“It is a unique opportunity to discuss the close links between decent work for fishermen and the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” Fréderic Lapeyre, ILO Country Office Director for Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Togo told ministers of fisheries gathering at the annual Ministerial Conference of the Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea.

These links, Mr Lapeyre said, are reason “to identify possible collaboration”.

Cooperation with regional fishery bodies is one of the objectives of ILO’s recently launched 8.7 Accelerator Lab. The “Lab” is a programme working to help governments and social partners reach the ambitious seventh target of Sustainable Development Goal 8 on eradicating forced labour by 2030 and child labour by 2025.

Through the Lab and regional partnerships, the ILO is looking to replicate strategies that are working successfully, to connect platforms already targeting forced and child labour, to identify and upscale tools and innovations and, especially, to pool donor funding to leverage resources.

The 8.7 Accelerator Lab targets gaps in research and knowledge, in public and private sector governance, in legal frameworks and their enforcement. The goal is to strengthen detection and the use of technology to empower vulnerable workers, monitor working and living conditions and increase the transparency of business efforts and the traceability of goods.

Starting with the fisheries sector, it will expand to cover mining and other sectors where forced and child labour are prevalent.
“To put an end to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, it is not enough to protect the fishery resources, it is also necessary to protect the fishermen who are very often victims themselves,” Mr Lapeyre emphasized during the ministers’ meeting.

Vessels involved in IUU fishing are also likely to fall short of international labour standards as well, including trafficking in persons and forced labour, Mr Lapeyre explained.

Country Office Director Mr Lapeyre at the 13th Conference of the FCWC

IUU fishing threatens oceans and sustainable fisheries by endangering fish stocks. According to FAO, about a fifth of all catches came from IUU fishing over the past decade. Depleted fish stocks can push vessels to fish at longer distances from shore, often transnationally and on the high seas, increase crew costs and competition which can put pressure on unscrupulous employers to seek cheaper labour and reduce spending on health and safety measures. This can even lead to the use of forced labour as a mean to keep workers in worsening working conditions.

“IUU fishing is a significant problem for many West African countries, and we know you’re all strongly committed to ending this practice,” the ILO Country Office Director stressed, calling on ministers to harness their commitment towards tackling the sometimes-overlooked human cost of unsustainable fishing methods and to ensure that working conditions on board vessels operating in waters under national jurisdiction of the Committee’s member countries are in compliance with international law.

Ministers of Fisheries at the 13th Conference of the FCWC

Frédéric Lapeyre urged FCWC countries to ratify ILO Convention No. 188 on working conditions in the fishing sector and Protocol No. 29 on forced labour as “a major step forward to establish decent work for fishers while supporting the fight against IUU fishing” and to work with the ILO to gather crucial data to guide us on the road ahead.

This regional engagement is in tune with an emerging trend that has seen several regional fisheries bodies (RFBs) and regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) address the issue of decent work in recent years, including the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which has adopted a resolution establishing a process to address labour standards in ICCAT fisheries in November 2021. The 8.7 Accelerator Lab is closely monitoring these new developments and is committed to continue supporting the promotion of decent work and the elimination of forced labour on board fishing vessels through cooperation with RFBs and RFMOs.

To find out more about ILO’s work in fishing, please visit the dedicated webpage of the Sectoral Policies Department.