Combining Industry and Human Rights Data to Stop Slavery in Seafood Supply Chains

29 November 2018
Research Innovation

Katrina Nakamura  | Founder, the Sustainability Incubator

For the first time, seafood companies have access to a tool that can reliably identify hotspots for high risks of forced labour throughout their purchasing supply chain. It is no longer a question of if seafood companies can engage in thorough human rights due diligence, but whether they will.

At the Sustainability Incubator, we support seafood companies’ efforts to identify risks in their supply chains by providing the Labor Safe Screen, a five-part framework for seafood buyers, sellers and traders to help reduce slavery in the seafood sector. The Labor Safe Screen identifies hotspots by combining industry and human rights data in novel ways, allowing companies to take targeted corrective action, and recognizing workers’ skills and value as a key part of the solution.

The Labor Safe Screen

Developed over a six-year period of collaboration and experimentation with investment from Humanity United, The Freedom Fund and Partnership for Freedom, the Labor Safe Screen has to date been used by 22 companies for 134 products. It provides a unified supply-chain assessment framework using respected and credible human rights data from UN institutions, governments, NGOs and seafood companies together with interviews of workers on fishing vessels and in processing plants. Data are compiled to systematically determine working conditions at specific points in a seafood supply chain. This allows the user of the Labor Safe Screen to “see” the flow of fish as well as the flow of people in and out of the supply chain. Our study shows that supply chain mapping, the use of supplier and human rights data, and on-the-ground verification can be integrated to detect previously unknown drivers of exploitative labour conditions. The underlying methods were recently made available in the journal Science Advances as an open-access resource.

A typical grocery store carries hundreds of seafood items, and the largest carry thousands. The seafood sector has among the world’s most complex supply chains and utilizes sophisticated technology to track seafood safety conditions. We began to collect data on working conditions for a large number of products, starting with human rights findings on forced labour in seafood in the product’s country-level origins, and then working through a five-point framework to combine that human rights data with industry data assembled through existing technologies.

The five-point framework

The first step in the Labor Safe Screen method involves research on forced labour or human rights issues associated with the product’s origins (component 1). For example, with seafood products from Southeast Asia, research begins with findings from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) of the United States Department of Labor, the UN-ACT, ILO-Triangle Project, Nexus Institute, Human Rights Watch, and local and regional organizations like the Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN). The results help steer inquiry towards places where further investigation is needed urgently.

The second step is to map the actual supply chain with production and trade data (component 2). The purpose is to identify the facilities involved in a supply chain, and their operators. It is indispensable to learn who has authority for transfers and documentation within the supply chain, in order to understand who will have authority and responsibility for addressing shortcomings and improving respect for workers’ rights in the supply chain.

The third step is a search into the compliance history of the fishing, cargo and supply vessels at sea involved in the making of the product (component 3). We use an algorithm with 34 data entry questions concerning legal compliance in the vessels’ ownership, home port, registration, flag and trans-shipping histories to produce a score of 0 to 100  on the likelihood of compliance issues.

The fourth step is to triangulate supplier data and worker data to determine the level of proof available regarding minimum protective conditions in the workplace (component 4). The figure below lists the minimum protective conditions that the Labor Safe Screen monitors.

The Labor Safe Screen’s minimum protective measures

The fifth step is incorporating findings and improving conditions (component 5). Here the companies provide proof of any changes they have undertaken to address shortcomings. This ranges from a simple public disclosure of their efforts to screening broker contracts for prohibited fees and consistency with workplace conditions.

Today the Labor Safe Screen is available to seafood companies to continuously monitor thousands of products with data available from Trace Register, a food safety and traceability software widely used in the seafood sector by large retailers and food distributors. Every time a product is sold and moves from a supplier to the purchaser, a score of 60 or higher in component 3 automatically generates an alert email that notifies the supplier of an issue with their supply chain and provides information on how to correct it.

Worker voice

Using existing technology, the platform integrates perspectives from workers, industry and human rights authorities. Taking into account workers’ experiences is a key element of the Labor Safe Screen. According to Patima Tungpuchayakul of LPN, workers “know best what’s going on, good practices and challenges. They have the capacity to make things better and help others and must be encouraged to be part of the dialogue.”

Given that risk identification requires first-hand worker perspectives, the Labor Safe Screen integrates findings from human rights authorities, which can point to conditions of forced labour requiring immediate action. Human rights and workers’ organizations also provide recommendations for improvements directly from workers. In general, the basis of the Labor Safe Screen has shifted away from attempting to prove or to disprove specific forced labour cases to establishing of system of human rights due diligence fundamentals.

Our findings demonstrate the feasibility and utility of a human rights due diligence approach to seafood sustainability. With the Labor Safe Screen, we can expand the use of existing technology and platforms to hear directly from workers and ensure that seafood is socially responsible. Risk-based screening produces no guarantee products are free from labour risks, but is a practical tool companies can use to combine their supply chain data and human rights data to spot and correct risky conditions.

Katrina Nakamura is the founder of the Sustainability Incubator.

This article has been prepared by Katarina Nakamura as a contributor to Delta 8.7. As provided for in the Terms and Conditions of Use of Delta 8.7, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of UNU or its partners.

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