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Turning the Tide on Labour Standards in the Fisheries Sector: Looking to the Pacific

11.00 – 12.30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 2 June 2021

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Organised by International Labour Organization (ILO)




Fishing is of critical significance to Pacific Islands Countries, as a foundation of the long-term prosperity in the region for food security and for the economic benefits linked to fisheries resources. The Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) supplies approximately sixty  percent of the worlds tuna, and the exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of Pacific Island Counties (PICs) cover half of the WCPO. There have been ongoing and signficiant efforts to address illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the region. However, it is only recently that labour rights violations have come into focus as a component of IUU fishing, which had previously been seen as an envirmental and fisheries management issue. The emerging focus on labour rights and decent work as an essential component of combatting IUU fishing has led to tangible action in the WCPO. For example, in 2019, the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) agreed to include Crew Employment Conditions in the regionally Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions (MTCs) that apply to all commercial tuna vessels fishing in FFA member waters.


Meanwhile, Covid-19 has had varied and significant impacts on the sector.  Covid-19 related challenges, such as border closures, have increased the vulnerabilities faced by fishers. This is evident in cases of fishers and seafarers stranded at sea for indefinite periods.1 There is also a risk that disruptions brought about by Covid-19 may lead companies to depriortise efforts to safeguard against labour rights violations and promote decent work. Yet Covid-19 has also highlighted the importance of the fisheries sector. Indeed, pandemic-buying has led to a surge in sales of of canned tuna as a desirable pantry staple in many countries.2


It is therefore timely to disucss how labour rights and decent work can be promoted, rather than deprioritized, in the fisheries sector, with a focus on the WCPO.

1 COVID-19 in the maritime sector: Seafarers and fishers: Providing vital services during the COVID-19 pandemic (ilo.org)

2 Tuna_II_v6.pdf (business-humanrights.org)

Session Description

The proposed session would firstly review recent progress that has been made to promote decent work and compliance with labour standards in the WCPO. Additionally, it would highlight how emerging technologies can be applied to the monitoring of IUU fishing, focusing on labour rights violations, as well as the limitations of these technologies. Finally, it would draw attention to the potential for new partnerships to promote efforts to combat labour rights violations and promote decent work in the WCPO.  The significant impacts of Covid-19 on labour rights and decent working conditions will frame discussions.

Session Objectives

The key objectives of this session are to:


  • Discuss what has been achieved so far in terms of recognising the labour rights component of IUU fishing and significance of this for human rights and promoting decent working conditions in the WCPO fisheries sector;

  • Discuss the potential for application of new technolohies in identifying risk of labour rights violations, and the limitations of these technologies;

  • To explore how new and existing partnerships can be leveraged to respond to the risks of labour rights violations in the WCPO, and to strengthen efforts to promote decent work.




Panelists will reflect on the following questions:

  • What measures have been taken so far in promoting decent work in the WCPO, and trying to prevent labour rights violations? 

  • What are the key barriers to these measures being effective? 

  • How can new technologies be applied in this area? Are there useful examples from other regions that can be applied? What are the limitations or unknows of new technologies?

  • What are the examples of good or best practice from the fisheries sector, and what can we learn from these?

  • What should be the focus of furture work in this area in the WCPO and what are the current critical prioritise in the context of Covid-19 ?

For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org