Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Background on Human Rights and The Ocean
3. Laws and Legislation
4. IUU Fishing and Human Rights
5. Seafood Consumption Guides
6. Displacement and Disenfranchisement
7. Ocean Governance
8. Shipbreaking and Human Rights Abuses
9. Proposed Solutions

1. Introduction

Unfortunately, human rights violations occur not only on land but also at sea. Human trafficking, corruption, exploitation, and other illegal violations, combined with a lack of policing and proper enforcement of international laws, is the deplorable reality of much ocean activity. This ever growing presence of human rights violations at sea and the direct and indirect mistreatment of the ocean go hand in hand. Whether it be in the form of illegal fishing or the forced fleeing of low-lying atoll nations from sea level rise, the ocean is overflowing with crime.

Our misuse of the ocean’s resources and increasing output of carbon emissions has only exacerbated the presence of illegal ocean activities. Human-induced climate change has caused ocean temperatures to warm, the sea level to rise, and storms to surge, forcing coastal communities to flee their homes and seek livelihoods elsewhere with minimal financial or international aid. Overfishing, as a response to the growing demand for cheap seafood, has forced local fishermen to travel farther to find viable fish stocks or board illegal fishing vessels for little or no pay.

The lack of enforcement, regulation, and monitoring of the ocean is not a new theme. It has been a constant challenge to international bodies who hold some of the responsibility for ocean monitoring. In addition, governments continue to ignore the responsibility to curb emissions and provide support to these disappearing nations.

The first step towards finding a solution to the abundant human rights abuses on the ocean is awareness. Here we have compiled some of the best resources relevant to the topic of human rights and the ocean.

Our Statement on Forced Labor and Human Trafficking in the Fisheries Sector

For years, the marine community has become increasingly aware that fishers remain vulnerable to human rights abuse on board fishing vessels. Workers are forced to perform difficult and sometimes hazardous work for long hours at very low pay, under the threat of force or by means of debt bondage, resulting in physical and mental abuse and even death. As reported by the International Labor Organization, capture fisheries have one of the highest occupational fatality rates in the world. 

According to the UN Trafficking Protocol, human trafficking involves three elements:

  • deceptive or fraudulent recruitment;
  • facilitated movement to the place of exploitation; and
  • exploitation at the destination.

In the fisheries sector, forced labor and human trafficking both violates human rights and threatens the sustainability of the ocean. Given the interconnectedness of the two, a multifaceted approach is needed and efforts focusing solely on supply chain traceability are not enough. Many of us in Europe and the United States may also be likely recipients of seafood caught under forced labor conditions. One analysis of seafood imports to Europe and the U.S. suggests that when imported and domestically caught fish are combined in local markets, the risk of purchasing seafood contaminated by the use of modern slavery increases approximately 8.5 times, compared with domestically caught fish.

The Ocean Foundation strongly supports the International Labor Organization’s “Global Action Programme against forced labour and trafficking of fishers at sea” (GAPfish), which includes: 

  • Development of sustainable solutions to prevent human and labor 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 labor;
  • Increased capacity of port states to address and respond to situations of forced labor in fishing; and 
  • Establishment of a more knowledgeable consumer base of forced labor in fisheries.

In order to not perpetuate forced labor and human trafficking in the fisheries sector, The Ocean Foundation will not partner or work with (1) entities who may have a high-risk of modern slavery in their operations, based on information from the Global Slavery Index among other sources, or with (2) entities who do not have a demonstrated public commitment to maximizing traceability and transparency throughout the seafood supply chain. 

Yet, legal enforcement across the ocean remains difficult. However, in recent years new technologies are being used to track ships and combat human trafficking in new ways. Most activity on the high seas follows the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea which legally defines uses of the seas and ocean for individual and common benefit, specifically, it established exclusive economic zones, freedom-of-navigation rights, and created the International Seabed Authority. Over the last five years, there has been a push for a Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea. As of February 26th, 2021 a final version of the Declaration is under review and will be presented in the coming months.

2. Background on Human Rights and The Ocean

Vithani, P. (2020, December 1). Tackling Human Rights Abuses is Critical to Sustainable Life at Sea and on Land. World Economic Forum.  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/how-tackling-human-rights-abuses-is-critical-to-sustainable-life-at-sea-and-on-land/

The ocean is huge making it very difficult to police. As such illicit and illegal activities run rampant and many communities around the world are seeing an effect on their local economies and traditional livelihoods. This short write-up provides an excellent high-level introduction to the problem of human rights abuses in fishing and suggests remedies such as increased technological investment, increased monitoring, and the need to address the root causes of IUU fishing.

Department of State. (2020). Trafficking in Persons Report. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. PDF. https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) is an annual report published by the United States Department of State that includes an analysis of human trafficking in every country, promising practices to combat trafficking, victim’s stories, and current trends. The TIP identified Burma, Haiti, Thailand, Taiwan, Cambodia, Indonesia, South Korea, China as countries dealing with trafficking and forced labor in the fisheries sector. Of note the 2020 TIP report classified Thailand as a Tier 2, however, some advocacy groups argue that Thailand should be downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List as they have not done enough to combat the trafficking of migrant workers.

Urbina, I. (2019, August 20). The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across The Last Untamed Frontier. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

The ocean is too big to police with huge areas that have no clear international authority. Many of these immense regions are host to rampant criminality from traffickers to pirates, smugglers to mercenaries, poachers to shackled slaves. Author, Ian Urbina, works to bring attention to the strife in Southeast Asia, Africa, and beyond. The book Outlaw Ocean is based on Urbina’s reporting for the New York Times, selected articles can be found here:

  1. “Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship.” The New York Times, 17 July 2015.
    Serving as an overview of the lawless world of the high seas, this article focuses on the story of two stowaways aboard the scofflaws ship Dona Liberty
  2.  “Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, But Killers Go Free.” The New York Times, 20 July 2015.
    Footage of four unarmed men being killed in the middle of the ocean for still unknown reasons.
  3. ” ‘Sea Slaves:’ The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestocks.” The New York Times, 27 July 2015.
    Interviews of men who have fled servitude on fishing boats.  They recount their beatings and worse as nets are cast for the catch that will become pet food and livestock feed.
  4. “A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes.” The New York Times, 28 July 2015.
    A recount of the 110 days in which members of environmental organization, Sea Shepherd, trail a trawler infamous for illegal fishing.
  5.  “Tricked And Indebted On Land, Abused Or Abandoned At Sea. ” The New York Times, 9 November 2015.
    Illegal “manning agencies” trick villagers in the Philippines with false promises of high wages and send them to ships notorious for poor safety and labor records.
  6. “Maritime ‘Repo Men’: A Last Resort For Stolen Ships.” The New York Times, 28 December 2015.
    Thousands of boats are stolen each year, and some are recovered using alcohol, prostitutes, witch doctors and other forms of guile.
  7. “Palau vs. the Poachers.” The New York Times Magazine, 17 February 2016.
    Paula, an isolated country roughly the size of Philadelphia is responsible for patrolling a swath of ocean about the size of France, in a region teeming with supertrawlers, state-subsidized poacher fleets, mile-long drift nets and the floating fish attracters known as FADs.  Their aggressive approach may set a standard for enforcing law at sea.

Tickler, D., Meeuwig, J.J., Bryant, K. et al. (2018). Modern slavery and the Race to Fish. Nature Communications Vol. 9,4643 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-07118-9

Over the last several decades there has been a trend of observed diminishing returns in the fishing industry. Using the Global Slavery Index (GSI), the authors argue that countries with documented labor abuses also share higher levels of subsided distant-water fishing and poor catch reporting. As a consequence of the diminishing returns, there is evidence of serious labor abuses and modern slavery that exploit workers to reduce costs.

Associated Press (2015) Associated Press Investigation into Slaves at Sea in Southeast Asia, a ten-part series. [film]. https://www.ap.org/explore/seafood-from-slaves/

Associated Press’ investigation was one of the first intensive investigations into the seafood industry, in the US and abroad. Over the course of eighteen months, four journalists with The Associated Press tracked ships, located slaves, and stalked refrigerated trucks to expose the abusive practices of the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. The investigation has led to the release of more than 2,000 slaves and the immediate reaction of major retailers and the Indonesian government. The four journalists won the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting in February 2016 for their work. 

Human Rights at Sea. (2014). Human Rights at Sea. London, United Kingdom. https://www.humanrightsatsea.org/

Human Rights At Sea (HRAS) has emerged as a leading independent maritime human rights platform. Since its launch in 2014, HRAS has fiercely advocated for increased implementation and accountability of basic human rights provisions among seafarers, fishermen, and other ocean-based livelihoods around the world. 

Fishwise. (2014, March). Trafficked II – An Updated Summary of Human Rights Abuses in the Seafood Industry. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/Trafficked_II_FishWise_2014%20%281%29.compressed.pdf

Trafficked II by FishWise provides an overview of human rights issues in the seafood supply chain and the challenges to reforming the industry. This report can serve as a tool to unify conservation NGOs and human rights experts.

Treves, T. (2010). Human Rights and the Law of the Sea. Berkeley Journal of International Law. Volume 28, Issue 1. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Rights%20and%20the%20Law%20of%20the%20Sea.pdf

Author Tillio Treves considers the Law of the Seas from the viewpoint of human rights law determining that human rights are intertwined with the Law of the Sea. Treves goes through legal cases that provide evidence for the interdependence of the Law of the Sea and human rights. It is an important article for those looking to understand the legal history behind the current violations of human rights as it puts into context how the Law of the Seas was created.

3. Laws and Legislation

United States International Trade Commission. (2021, February). Seafood Obtained via Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing: U.S. Imports and Economic Impact on U.S. Commercial Fisheries. United States International Trade Commission Publication, No. 5168, Investigation No. 332-575. https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/pub5168.pdf

The U.S. International Trade Commission found that nearly $2.4 billion dollars work of seafood imports are derived from IUU fishing in 2019, primarily swimming crab, wild-caught shrimp, yellowfin tuna, and squid. The main exporters of marine-capture IUU imports originate in China, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Indonesia. This report provides a thorough analysis of IUU fishing with particular note of human rights abuses in the source countries of U.S. seafood imports. Notably, the report found that 99% of the Chinese DWF fleet in Africa was estimated to be the product of IUU fishing.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2020). Report to Congress Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply Chain, Section 3563 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (P.L. 116-92). Department of Commerce. https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/2020-12/DOSNOAAReport_HumanTrafficking.pdf?null

Under the direction of Congress, NOAA published a report on human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. The report lists 29 countries that are most at risk for human trafficking in the seafood sector. Recommendations to combat human trafficking in the fishing sector include outreach to listed countries, promoting global traceability efforts and international initiatives to address human trafficking, and strengthening collaboration with industry to address human trafficking in the seafood supply chain.

Greenpeace. (2020). Fishy Business: How Transshipment at Sea Facilitates Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing that Devastates our Oceans. Greenpeace International. PDF. https://www.greenpeace.org/static/planet4-international-stateless/2020/02/be13d21a-fishy-business-greenpeace-transhipment-report-2020.pdf

Greenpeace has identified 416 “risky” reefer vessels that operate on the high seas and facilitate IUU fishing while undermining the rights of workers onboard. Greenpeace uses data from Global Fishing Watch to show at scale how fleets of reefers are involved in transshipments and use flags of convenience to skirt regulation and safety standards. Continued governance gaps allow malpractice in international waters to continue. The report advocates for a Global Ocean Treaty to provide a more holistic approach to ocean governance.

Oceana. (2019, June). Illegal Fishing and Human Rights Abuses at Sea: Using Technology to Highlight Suspicious Behaviors. 10.31230/osf.io/juh98. PDF.

Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a serious issue for the management of commercial fisheries and ocean conservation. As commercial fishing increases, fish stocks are decreasing as is IUU fishing. Oceana’s report includes three case studies, the first on the sinking of the Oyang 70 off the coast of New Zealand, the second on the Hung Yu a Taiwanese vessel, and the third a refrigerated cargo vessel Renown Reefer that operated off the coast of Somalia. Together these case studies support the argument that companies with a history of non-compliance, when paired with poor oversight and weak international legal frameworks, make commercial fishing vulnerable to illicit activity.

Human Rights Watch. (2018, January). Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand’s Fishing Industry. PDF.

To date, Thailand has not yet taken adequate steps to address the problems of human rights abuse in the Thai fishing industry. This report documents forced labor, poor working conditions, recruitment processes, and problematic terms of employment that create abusive situations. While more practices have been instituted since the report’s publication in 2018, the study is necessary reading for anyone interested in learning more about Human Rights in Thailand fisheries.

International Organization for Migration (2017, January 24). Report on Human Trafficking, Forced Labour and Fisheries Crime in the Indonesian Fishing Industry. IOM Mission in Indonesia. https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/country/docs/indonesia/Human-Trafficking-Forced-Labour-and-Fisheries-Crime-in-the-Indonesian-Fishing-Industry-IOM.pdf

A new government decree based on IOM research on human trafficking in Indonesian fisheries will address human rights abuses. This is a joint report by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (KKP), Indonesia Presidential Task Force to Combat Illegal Fishing, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Indonesia, and Coventry University. The report recommends the ending of the use of Flags of Convenience by Fishing and Fisheries Support Vessels, improve international registry and vessel identification systems, improved working conditions in Indonesia and Thailand, and increased governance of fishing companies to ensure compliance with human rights, increased traceability and inspections, appropriate registration for migrants, and coordinated efforts across various agencies.

Braestrup, A., Neumann, J., and Gold, M., Spalding, M. (ed), Middleburg, M. (ed). (2016, April 6). Human Rights & The Ocean: Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate. White Paper. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/SlaveryandtheShrimponYourPlate1.pdf

Sponsored by the Ocean Leadership Fund of The Ocean Foundation, this paper was produced as part of a series examining the interconnection between human rights and a healthy ocean. As part two of the series, this white paper explores the intertwined abuse of human capital and natural capital that ensures people in the US and UK can eat four times as much shrimp as they did five decades ago, and at half the price.

Alifano, A. (2016). New Tools For Seafood Businesses to Understand Human Rights Risks and Improve Social Compliance. Fishwise. Seafood Expo North America. PDF.

Corporations are increasingly under public scrutiny for labor abuses, to address this, Fishwise presented at the 2016 Seafood Expo North America. The presentation included information from Fishwise, Humanity United, Verite, and Seafish. Their focus is on at-sea wild-catch and promote transparent decision rules and use publicly available data from verified sources.

Fishwise. (2016, June 7). UPDATE: Briefing on Human Trafficking and Abuse in Thailand’s Shrimp Supply. Fishwise. Santa Cruise, California. PDF.

Beginning in the early 2010s Thailand has been under increasing scrutiny concerning multiple documented cases of tracking and labor violations. Specifically, there is documentation of trafficked victims being forced onto boats far out from shore to catch fish for fish feed, slavery-like conditions in fish processing centers, and exploitation of workers via debt bondage and employers withholding documentation. Given the severity of the human rights abuses various stakeholders have begun to take action to prevent labor violations in seafood supply chains, however, more needs to be done.

Illegal Fishing: Which Fish Species are at Highest Risk from Illegal and Unreported Fishing? (2015, October). World Wildlife Fund. PDF. https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/834/files/original/Fish_Species_at_Highest_Risk_ from_IUU_Fishing_WWF_FINAL.pdf?1446130921

The World Wildlife Fund found that over 85% of fish stocks can be considered at significant risk of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. IUU fishing is pervasive across species and regions.

Couper, A., Smith, H., Ciceri, B. (2015). Fishers and Plunderers: Theft, Slavery and Fisheries at Sea. Pluto Press.

This book focuses on the exploitation of fish and fishers alike in a global industry that gives little consideration to either conservation or human rights.  Alastair Couper also wrote the 1999 book, Voyages of Abuse: Seafarers, Human Rights, and International Shipping.

Environmental Justice Foundation. (2014). Slavery at Sea: The Continued Plight of Trafficked Migrants in Thailand’s Fishing Industry. London. https://ejfoundation.org/reports/slavery-at-sea-the-continued-plight-of-trafficked-migrants-in-thailands-fishing-industry

A report by the Environmental Justice Foundation takes an in-depth look at Thailand’s seafood industry and its reliance on human trafficking for labor. This is the second report by the EJF on this subject, published after Thailand was moved down to the Tier 3 Watchlist of the US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report. It is one of the best reports for those trying to understand how human trafficking has become such a big part of the fishing industry and why little has been accomplished to stop it.

Field, M. (2014). The Catch:  How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Oceans. AWA Press, Wellington, NZ, 2015. PDF.

Longtime reporter Michael Field undertook to uncover human trafficking in the quota fisheries of New Zealand, demonstrating the role wealthy nations can play in perpetuating the role of slavery in overfishing.

United Nations. (2011). Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Vienna. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/TOC_in_the_Fishing%20Industry.pdf

This UN study looks at the connection between transnational organized crime and the fishing industry. It identifies a number of reasons the fishing industry is vulnerable to organized crime and possible ways to combat that vulnerability. It is meant for an audience of international leaders and organizations who can come together with the UN to combat the human rights violations caused by organized crime.

Agnew, D., Pearce, J., Pramod, G.,  Peatman, T. Watson, R.,  Beddington, J., and Pitcher T. (2009, July 1). Estimating the Worldwide Extent of Illegal Fishing. PLOS One.  https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004570

Roughly one-third of global seafood catch are the result of IUU fishing practices equaling nearly 56 billion pounds of seafood each year. Such high levels of IUU fishing mean the world-wide economy faces losses between $10 and $23 billion dollars each year. Developing countries are most at risk. IUU is a global problem that affected a huge portion of all seafood consumed and impairing sustainability efforts and increasing the mismanagement of marine resources.

Conathan, M. and Siciliano, A. (2008) The Future of Seafood Security – The Fight Against Illegal Fishing and Seafood Fraud. Center for American Progress. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/IllegalFishing-brief.pdf

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2006 has been a huge success, so much so that overfishing has effectively ended in US waters. However, Americans are still consuming millions of tons of unsustainably caught seafood every year – from abroad.

4. IUU Fishing and Human Rights

Task Force on Human Trafficking in Fishing in International Waters. (2021, January). Task Force on Human Trafficking in Fishing in International Waters. Report to Congress. PDF.

To address the growing problem of human trafficking in the fishing industry the United States Congress mandated an investigation. The result is an interagency task force that explored human rights violations in the fishing sector from October 2018 through August 2020. The report includes 27 high-level legislation and activity recommendations including, extending justice for forced labor, authorize new penalties to employers found to have engaged in abusive practices, prohibit worker-paid recruitment fees on U.S. fishing vessels, incorporate due diligence practices, target entities connected to human trafficking through sanctions, develop and adopt a human trafficking screening tool and reference guide, strengthen data collection, fuse, and analysis, and develop training for vessel inspectors, observers, and foreign counterparts.

Department of Justice. (2021). Table of U.S. Government Authorities Relevant to Human Trafficking in Fishing in International Waters. https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/1360371/download

The Table of U.S. Government Authorities Relevant to Human Trafficking in Fishing in International Waters highlights activities conducted by the United States government to address human rights concerns in the seafood supply chain. The report is subdivided by Department and provides guidance on each agency’s authority. The table includes the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of State, Office of the United States Trade Representative, Department of the Treasury, and Internal Revenue Service. The table also includes information on federal agency, regulatory authority, type of authority, description, and scope of jurisdiction.

Human Rights at Sea. (2020, March 1). Human Rights at Sea Briefing Note: Are the 2011 UN Guiding Principles Working Effectively and being Rigorously Applied in the Maritime Industry.https://www.humanrightsatsea.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/HRAS_UN_Guiding_Principles_Briefing_Note_1_March_2020_SP_LOCKED.pdf

The 2011 UN Guiding Principles are based on corporate and state action and the idea that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights. This report looks back over the last decade and provides a short analysis of both successes and areas that must be remediated in order to achieve the protection and respect of human rights. The report notes a current lack of collective unity and agreed policymaking change difficult and more regulation and enforcement is necessary. More information on the 2011 UN Guiding Principles can be found here.

Teh L.C.L., Caddell R., Allison E.H., Finkbeiner, E.M., Kittinger J.N., Nakamura K., et al. (2019). The Role of Human Rights in Implementing Socially Responsible Seafood. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0210241. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210241

Socially responsible seafood principles need to be rooted in clear legal obligations and be supported by sufficient capacity and political will. The authors found that human rights laws usually address civil and political rights, but have a long way to go addressing economic, social, and cultural rights. By drawing on international instruments governments can pass national policies to eliminate IUU fishing.

United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights

The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights sets a standard for the protection of fundamental human rights and their universal protection. The eight-page document declares that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, without discrimination, and shall not be held in slavery, nor be subjected to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, among other rights. The declaration has inspired seventy human rights treaties, has been translated into over 500 languages and continues to guide policy and actions today.

5. Seafood Consumption Guides

Nakamura, K., Bishop, L., Ward, T., Pramod, G., Thomson, D., Tungpuchayakul, P., and Srakaew, S. (2018, July 25). Seeing Slavery in Seafood Supply Chains. Science Advances, E1701833. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/7/e1701833

The seafood supply chain is highly fragmented with the majority of the workers employed as subcontractors or through brokers making it hard to determine the sources of seafood. To address this, researchers created a framework and developed a methodology for assessing the risk of forced labor in seafood supply chains. The five-point framework, called the Labor Safe Screen, found that improved awareness of labor conditions so that food companies can remedy the problem.

Nereus Program (2016). Information Sheet: Slavery Fisheries and Japanese Seafood Consumption. The Nippon Foundation – University of British Columbia. PDF.

Forced labor and modern-day slavery is a rampant problem in today’s international fishing industry. To inform consumers, the Nippon Foundation created a guide that highlights the types of reported labor exploitation in fisheries based on country of origin. This short guide highlights the countries that are most likely to export fish that are the product of forced labor at some point in their supply chain. While the guide is directed at Japanese readers, it is published in English and provides good information for anyone interested in becoming a more informed consumer. The worst offenders, per the guide, are Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

Warne, K. (2011) Let them Eat Shrimp:  The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea. Island Press, 2011.

Global shrimp aquaculture production has caused significant harm to coastal mangroves of the tropical and subtropical regions of the world—and has negative effects on coastal livelihoods and marine animal abundance.

6. Displacement and Disenfranchisement

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2021, May). Lethal Disregard: Search and Rescue and the Protection of Migrants in the Central Mediterranean Sea. United Nations Human Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Migration/OHCHR-thematic-report-SAR-protection-at-sea.pdf

From January 2019 to December 2020 the United Nations Human Rights Office interviewed migrants, experts, and stakeholders to discover how certain laws, policies, and practices have negatively affected human rights protections of migrants. The report focuses on search and rescue efforts as migrants transition through Libya and the central Mediterranean Sea. The report confirms that a lack of human rights protection has occurred leading to hundreds of preventable deaths at sea due to a failed system of migration. Mediterranean countries must end policies that facilitated or enable human rights violations and must adopt practices that will prevent more migrant deaths at sea.

Vinke, K., Blocher, J., Becker, M., Ebay, J., Fong, T., and Kambon, A. (2020, September). Home Lands: Island and Archipelagic States’ Policymaking for Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change. German Cooperation. https://disasterdisplacement.org/portfolio-item/home-lands-island-and-archipelagic-states-policymaking-for-human-mobility-in-the-context-of-climate-change

Islands and coastal regions are facing major changes due to climate change including: scarcity of arable land, remoteness, loss of land, and challenges of accessible relief during disasters. These hardships are pushing many to migrate from their homelands. The report includes case studies on The Eastern Caribbean (Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Lucia), The Pacific (Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu), and The Philippines. To address this national and regional actors need to adopt policies to manage migration, plan relocation, and address displacement to minimize potential challenges of human mobility.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). (2018, August). Mapping Human Mobility (Migration, Displacement and Planned Relocation) and Climate Change in International Processes, Policies and Legal Frameworks. International Organization for Migration (IOM). PDF.

As climate change forces more people to leave their homes, various legal processes and practices have emerged. The report provides context and analysis of relevant international policy agendas and legal frameworks in place related to migration, displacement, and planned relocation. The report is an output of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Task Force on Displacement.

Greenshack Dotinfo. (2013). Climate Refugees: Alaska on Edge as Newtok’s Residents Race to stop Village Falling into Sea. [Film].

This video features a couple from Newtok, Alaska who explain the changes to their native landscape: sea-level rise, violent storms, and changing migratory bird patterns. They discuss their need to be relocated to a safer, inland area. However, due to complications with receiving supplies and assistance, they have been waiting for years to relocate.

This video features a couple from Newtok, Alaska who explain the changes to their native landscape: sea level rise, violent storms, and changing migratory bird patterns. They discuss their need to be relocated to a safer, inland area. However, due to complications with receiving supplies and assistance, they have been waiting for years to relocate.

Puthucherril, T. (2013, April 22). Change, Sea Level Rise and Protecting Displaced Coastal Communities: Possible Solutions. Global Journal of Comparative Law. Vol. 1. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/sea%20level%20rise.pdf

Climate change will have profound effects on the lives of millions. This paper outlines two displacement scenarios caused by sea level rise and explains that the “climate refugee” category has no international legal standing. Written as a law review, this paper clearly explains why those displaced by climate change will not be afforded their basic human rights.

Environmental Justice Foundation. (2012). A Nation Under Threat: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Rights and Forced Migration in Bangladesh. London. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/A_Nation_Under_Threat.compressed.pdf

Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its high population density and limited resources, among other factors. This Environmental Justice Foundation report is intended for those who hold positions in local conservation and human rights organizations, as well as international organizations. It explains the lack of aid and legal recognition for ‘climate refugees’ and advocates for immediate assistance and new legally binding instruments for recognition.

Environmental Justice Foundation. (2012). No Place Like Home – Securing Recognition, Protection and Assistance for Climate Refugees. London.  https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/NPLH_briefing.pdf

Climate refugees face problems of recognition, protection, and a general lack of assistance. This briefing by the Environmental Justice Foundation discusses the challenges facing those who will not have the capacity to adapt to deteriorating environmental conditions. This report is intended for a general audience looking to understand human rights violations, such as land loss, caused by climate change.

Bronen, R. (2009). Forced Migration of Alaskan Indigenous Communities Due to Climate Change: Creating A Human Rights Response. University of Alaska, Resilience and Adaptation Program. PDF. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/forced%20migration%20alaskan%20community.pdf

Forced Migration due to climate change is affecting some of Alaska’s most vulnerable communities. Author Robin Bronen details how Alaska’s state government has responded to forced migration. The paper provides topical examples for those looking to learn about human rights violations in Alaska and outlines an institutional framework to respond to climate-induced human migration.

Claus, C. A. and Mascia, M. B. (2008, May 14). A Property Rights Approach to Understanding Human Displacement from Protected Areas: the Case of Marine Protected Areas. Conservation Biology, World Wildlife Fund. PDF. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/A%20Property%20Rights%20Approach%20to% 20Understanding%20Human%20Displacement%20from%20Protected%20Areas.pdf

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are central to many biodiversity conservation strategies as well as a vehicle for sustainable social development and a source of social cost in addition to biodiversity conservation strategies. The impacts of reallocating rights to MPA resources vary within and among social groups, inducing changes in society, in patterns of resource use, and in the environment. This essay uses marine protected areas as a framework to examine the impacts of reallocating rights causing the displacement of local people. It explains the complexity and controversy surrounding property rights as they pertain to displacement.

Alisopp, M., Johnston, P., and Santillo, D. (2008, January). Challenging the Aquaculture Industry on Sustainability. Greenpeace Laboratories Technical Note. PDF. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/Aquaculture_Report_Technical.pdf

The growth of commercial aquaculture and increased methods of production has led to increasingly negative effects on the environment and society. This report is intended for those interested in understanding the complexity of the aquaculture industry and provides examples of the issues associated with attempting a legislative solution.

Lonergan, S. (1998). The Role of Environmental Degradation in Population Displacement. Environmental Change and Security Project Report, Issue 4: 5-15.  https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/The%20Role%20of%20Environmental%20Degradation% 20in%20Population%20Displacement.pdf

The number of people who have been displaced by environmental degradation is immense. To explain the complex factors leading to such a statement this report provides a set of questions and answers about migration movements and the role of the environment. The paper concludes with policy recommendations with an emphasis on the importance of sustainable development as a means to human security.

7. Ocean Governance

Gutierrez, M. and Jobbins, G. (2020, June 2). China’s Distant-water Fishing Fleet: Scale, Impact, and Governance. Overseas Development Institute. https://odi.org/en/publications/chinas-distant-water-fishing-fleet-scale-impact-and-governance/

Depleted domestic fish stocks are causing some countries to travel further to meet the rising demand for seafood. The largest of these distant-water fleets (DWF) is China’s fleet, which has a DWF numbering close to 17,000 vessels, A recent report found that this fleet was 5 to 8 times bigger than previously reported and at least 183 vessels were suspected being involved in IUU fishing. Trawlers are the most common vessels, and roughly 1,000 Chinese vessels are registered in countries other than China. More transparency and governance are needed as well as stricter regulation and enforcement. 

Human Rights at Sea. (2020, July 1). Fisheries Observer Deaths At Sea, Human Rights & The Role & Responsibilities Of Fisheries Organisations. PDF. https://www.humanrightsatsea.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/HRAS_Abuse_of_Fisheries_Observers_REPORT_JULY-2020_SP_LOCKED-1.pdf

Not only are there human rights concerns of workers within the fisheries sector there are concerns for Fisheries Observers who work to address the human rights abuses at sea. The report calls for better protection of both fisheries crew and Fisheries Observers. The report highlights the ongoing investigations of the death of Fishery Observers and ways to improve protection for all observers. This report is the first in a series produced by Human Rights at Sea the second report of the series, published in November 2020, will focus on actionable recommendations.

Human Rights at Sea. (2020, November 11). Developing Recommendation and Policy in Support of Fisheries Observers’ Safety, Security & Well-Being. PDF.

Human Rights at Sea has produced a series of reports to address the concerns of fisheries observers in an attempt to raise public awareness. This report focuses on recommendations to address the concerns highlighted throughout the series. The recommendations include: publicly available vessel monitoring systems (VMS) data, protection for fisheries observers and professional insurance, provisioning of durable safety equipment, increased surveillance and monitoring, commercial human rights application, public reporting, increased and transparent investigations, and finally addressing the perception of impunity from justice at a state-level. This report is a follow-up to the Human Rights at Sea, Fisheries Observer Deaths At Sea, Human Rights & The Role & Responsibilities Of Fisheries Organisations published in July 2020.

United States Department of State. (2016, September). Turning the Tide: Harnessing Innovation and Partnerships to Combat Human Trafficking in the Seafood Sector. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. PDF.

The Department of State, in their 2016 Trafficking in Persons report that more than 50 countries noted concerns of forced labor in fishing, seafood processing, or aquaculture affecting men, women, and children in every region around the world. To combat this many international organizations and NGOs in Southeast Asia are working to provide direct assistance, provide community training, improve the capacity of various justice systems (including Thailand and Indonesia), increase real-time data collection, and promote more responsible supply chains.

8. Shipbreaking and Human Rights Abuses

Daems, E. and Goris, G. (2019). The Hypocrisy of Better Beaches: Shipbreaking in India, ship owners in Switzerland, lobbying in Belgium. NGO Shipbreaking Platform. MO Magazine. PDF.

At the end of a ship’s life, many ships are sent to developing countries, beached, and broken down, full of toxic substances, and dismantled on the shores of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. The workers who break down the ships often use their bare hands in extreme and toxic conditions causing both social and environmental damage and fatal accidents. The market for old ships is opaque and ship companies, many based in Switzerland and other European countries, often find it cheaper to send ships to developing countries despite the harm. The report is intended to bring attention to the issue of shipbreaking and encourage policy changes to address the human rights abuses on shipbreaking beaches. The report’s annex and glossary are a wonderful introduction for those interested in learning more terminology and legislation related to shipbreaking.

Heidegger, P., Jenssen, I., Reuter, D., Mulinaris, N. and Carlsson, F. (2015). What a Difference a Flag Makes: Why Ship Owners’ Responsibility to Ensure Sustainable Ship Recycling Needs to go Beyond Flag State Jurisdiction. NGO Shipbreaking Platform. PDF. https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/FoCBriefing_NGO-Shipbreaking-Platform_-April-2015.pdf

Each year over 1,000 large ships, including tankers, cargo ships, passenger ships, and oil rigs, are sold for dismantling 70% of which end up on beaching yards in India, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. The European Union is the single largest market for sending end-of-life ships to dirty and dangerous shipbreaking. While the European Union has proposed regulator measures many companies skirt these laws by registering the ship in another country with more lenient laws. This practice of changing a ship’s flag needs to change and more legal and financial instruments to punish shipping companies need to be adopted in order to stop the human rights and environmental abuses of shipbreaking beaches.

Heidegger, P., Jenssen, I., Reuter, D., Mulinaris, N., and Carlsson, F. (2015). What a Difference a Flag Makes. NGO Shipbreaking Platform. Brussels, Belgium. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/FoCBriefing_NGO-Shipbreaking-Platform_-April-2015.pdf

The Shipbreaking Platform advises on new legislation aimed at regulating ship recycling, modeled after similar EU regulations. They argue that legislation based on flags of convenience (FOC) will undermine the ability to regulate shipbreaking due to the loopholes within the FOC system.

This TEDx talk explains bioaccumulation, or the accumulation of toxic substances, like pesticides or other chemicals, in an organism. The higher up on the food chain an orgasim resides, the more toxic chemics accumulate in their tissue. This TEDx talk is a resource for those in the conservation field who are interested in the concept of the food chain as a path for human rights violations to occur.

Lipman, Z. (2011). Trade in Hazardous Waste: Environmental Justice Versus Economic Growth. Environmental Justice and Legal Process, Macquarie University, Australia. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/Trade%20in%20Hazardous%20Waste.pdf

The Basel Convention, which seeks to stop the transport of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries that practice unsafe working conditions and severely underpay their workers, is the focus of this paper. It explains the legal aspects associated with stopping shipbreaking and the challenges of trying to get the Convention approved by enough countries.

Dann, B., Gold, M., Aldalur, M. and Braestrup, A. (series editor), Elder, L. (ed), Neumann, J. (ed). (2015, November 4). Human Rights & The Ocean: Shipbreaking and Toxins.  White Paper. https://www.oceanfdn.org/sites/default/files/TOF%20Shipbreaking%20White%20Paper% 204Nov15%20version.compressed%20%281%29.pdf

Sponsored by the Ocean Leadership Fund of The Ocean Foundation, this paper was produced as part of a series examining the interconnection between human rights and a healthy ocean. As part one of the series, this white paper explores the dangers of being shipbreaker and the lack of international awareness and policy to regulate such a huge industry.

International Federation for Human Rights. (2008). Childbreaking Yards: Child Labour in the Ship Recycling Industry in Bangladesh. NGO Shipbreaking Platform. PDF. https://shipbreakingplatform.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Report-FIDH_Childbreaking_Yards_2008.pdf

Researchers exploring reports of worker injury and death in the early 2000s found that observers repeatedly notice children both among the workers and actively involved in shipbreaking activities. The report – which conducted research beginning in 2000 and continuing through 2008 – focused on the shipbreaking yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh. They found that children and young adults under 18 made up 25% of all workers and domestic legislation monitoring working hours, minimum wage, compensation, training, and minimum working age were routinely ignored. Over the years changing is coming via court cases, but more needs to be done to enforce polices that protect children who are being exploited.

This short documentary shows the ship breaking industry in Chittagong, Bangladesh. With no safety precautions at the shipyard, many workers get injured and even die while working. Not only does the treatment of workers and their working conditions harm the ocean, it also represents a violation of these workers’ basic human rights.

Greenpeace and The International Federation for Human Rights. (2005, December).End of Life Ships – The Human Cost of Breaking Ships.https://wayback.archive-it.org/9650/20200516051321/http://p3-raw.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2006/4/end-of-life-the-human-cost-of.pdf

The joint report by Greenpeace and FIDH explains the ship breaking industry through personal accounts from ship breaking workers in India and Bangladesh. This report is intended as a call to action for those involved in the shipping industry to follow the new regulations and policies governing the industry’s actions.

This video, produced by EJF, provides footage of human trafficking aboard Thai fishing vessels and urges the Thai government to change their regulations in order to stop the human rights violations and overfishing that occurs in their ports.

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