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, 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 fisherman 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.
- Environmental Justice Foundation. (2012). No Place Like Home - Securing Recognition, Protection and Assistance for Climate Refugees. London. 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.
- Greenpeace and The International Federation for Human Rights. (2005, December). End of Life Ships - The Human Cost of Breaking Ships. This 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.
- Fishwise. (2014, March). Trafficked II - An Updated Summary of Human Rights Abuses in the Seafood Industry. This white paper 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, Issues 1. This article attempts to look at the Law of the Seas from the viewpoint of human rights law. It goes through legal cases that provide evidence that the Law of the Sea and human rights are intertwined and must be dealt with as such in the future. 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.
- Associated Press investigation into slaves at sea in Southeast Asia, a ten-part series. This series 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. A Foundation Charitable Incorporated Organisation based in London, 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.
- Oceans Beyond Piracy. Launched in 2010, Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP) is a program of the One Earth Future Foundation, dedicated to reducing violence at sea. OBP works with a community of diverse stakeholders to develop long-term sustainable solutions to maritime piracy, particularly off the coasts of East Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
International Organization for Migration. The UN Migration Agency. "IOM Indonesia Research Supports New Fisheries Industry Human Rights Audit." 24 Jan. 17.
New government decree based on IOM research on human trafficking in Indonesian fisheries will address human rights abuses.
Kasperkevic, J. "Migrant workers in US seafood industry exposed to forced labor conditions." 08 June 2016. The Guardian.
National Guestworker Alliance study finds undocumented and H-2B visa workers are often exploited, including verbal abuse and threats of exposure to authorities.
Mendoza, N. "Global fisheries and human rights: An opportunity for collective action." 03 March 2016. Devex Impact.
During the past several months the US has enacted a string of new laws and regulations that aim to clamp down on illegal labor practices in the global fishing industry. While this is a step in the right direction, companies still need to take bolder and more collective actions in order to create greater change in the labor practices of their supply chains. A great effort need to be put forward to establish a trusted and verifiable supply chain traceability systems at a global level.
Fault Lines. "A trafficked fisherman's tale: 'My life was destroyed.' " 05 March 2016. Al Jazeera.
In recent years, migrant men from poor countries in Southeast Asia who were forced to work on Thai fishing boats have begun to come forward, revealing a secret that powered the world's third-largest exporter of seafood. A man from Myanmar who spent more than a decade as a slave on a Thai fishing boat shares his story.
Milman, O. "Obama to sign law banning US imports of fish caught by slave labor." 16 February 2016. The Guardian.
Barack Obama is set to sign a law that would ban all US imports of fish caught by slave labor in south-east Asia, closing a loophole that has allowed seafood from forced labor to enter the country for decades.
Fonseca, J. “Asian Shipowners Forum Reports Ship Recycling Facilities Improvements in Alang." 26 October 2015. Maritime Reporter.
The Asian Shipowners’ Forum (ASF) visited ship recycling yards in India. The purpose of this visit was to get the first-hand look at current status of Indian ship recycling facilities and to confirm actions that should be taken next for achieving green ship recycling.
Mendoza, M. "Nestle confirms labor abuse among its Thai seafood suppliers." 23 November 2015. The Miami Herald.
A report commissioned by Nestle SA found that impoverished migrant workers in Thailand are sold or lured by false promises and forced to catch and process fish that ends up in the global food giant’s supply chains. Nestle is not a major purchaser of seafood in Southeast Asia but does some business in Thailand, primarily for its Purina brand Fancy Feast cat food.
Carr, A. "Use of illegal migrants on Irish trawlers a ‘national disgrace.’ " 3 November 2015. The Irish Times.
This article brings to light the fact that use of illegal immigrants in the shipping and fishing industry for cheap or free labor is not limited to particular regions nor particular country demographics. It is a worldwide problem, and now Ireland, too, has been caught.
Sorensen, J. "Corruption in an Era of Climate Change: An Ever-Closing Circle?" 27 Oct. 2015. Huffington Post: The Blog.
This article explains the correlation between natural disasters and and influx of corruption. For example, less than a year after Katrina, The New York Times estimated that two billion tax dollars were frittered away on fraud, corruption and waste. Preparedness in an era of climate change must address all consequences of a natural disaster, including opportunities for corruption.
Lawrence, F. "Costco and CP Foods face lawsuit over alleged slavery in prawn supply chain." Oct. 2015. The Guardian.
An investigation by The Guardian in 2014 found that the world’s largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, was buying fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that owned, were operating or buying from fishing boats manned with slaves. Now, in October 2015 legal claims have been filed in California, seeking injunction against US retailer Costco to prevent sale of prawns produced by CP Foods unless labelled a product tainted by slavery.
Slavery in the Global Marketplace: Human Trafficking in Supply Chains & on the Outlaw Ocean. Sept. 2015.
This is a briefing about human trafficking in the global marketplace presented by the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, Co-Chaired by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rob Portman (R-Maine). The Senate caucus on human trafficking held a panel on the role the U.S. government might play through marketplace leverage. Two ideas discussed: stricter traceability rules on seafood imported to the U.S., and raising the bar on transparency and labor standards for the more than $300 million worth of seafood bought by U.S. agencies.
Urbina, I. "U.S. Announces Plans to Combat Illegal Fishing and Other Steps to Protect Oceans." Oct. 2015. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.
In some interviews with The New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry recently offers a bit more insight on his hopes and plans for improving policing at sea. During the Our Ocean conference in Chile 2015, he announced that he intends to make slavery at sea a focus of next year's conference.
Urbina, I. "African Court Convicts Captain of Renegade Ship in Illegal Fishing Case." Oct. 2015. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.
A court in Sao Tome and Principe convicted the three officers of the Thunder, the pirate fishing ship that topped Interpol's Most Wanted list and that Sea Shepherd (see "A Renegade Trawler"). An unusual ending to this type of story, since so few of these notorious scofflaws ever get caught or prosecuted. Some of the documents seized on The Thunder are now being used by Spain and other countries to target the criminal syndicates tied to illegal fishing on the high seas.
Urbina, I. "The Outlaw Ocean." July 2015. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com.
This series explores the lawless world of the high seas, its victims, its perpetrators and how we as consumers are all connected to the crimes that go unpunished at sea.
1. "Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship." The New York Times, 17 July 2015.
A good overview of the lawless world of the high seas, focusing in on the story of two stowaways aboard the scofflaws ship Dona Liberta
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 reasons still unknown.
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, a 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.
-DISPLACEMENT AND DISENFRANCHISEMENT-
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. The discuss their need to be relocated to a safer, inland area. However, due to complication with receiving supplies and assistance, they have been waiting for years to relocate.
Alisopp, M., Johnston, P., and Santillo, D. (2008, January). Challenging the Aquaculture Industry on Sustainability. Greenpeace Laboratories Technical Note.
This report includes case studies that outline the negative environmental and social impacts, including human rights abuses, of the aquaculture industry. 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.
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.
This paper examines some of Alaska’s most vulnerable communities. It explains how the state government in Alaska has responded to forced migration and provides those looking to learn about human rights violations with topical examples from Alaska.
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.
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.
Environmental Justice Foundation. (2012). A Nation Under Threat: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Rights and Forced Migration in Bangladesh. London.
Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to its high population density and limited resources, among other factors. This Environmental Justice Foundation report specifically aimed at those who hold positions in local conservation and human rights organization, 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.
Greenpeace. (2008, March). Climate Migrants in South Asia: Estimates and Solutions. India: Rajan, Sudhir Chella.
This study by Greenpeace shows how drastic the effects of climate change will be for migrants in the South Asian region. The study is meant to urge countries, like India, to focus on sustainable development and economic growth toward decarbonization. Decarbonization requires the reduction in global emissions of greenhouse gases by moving away from carbon-dependent industries. It provides statistical data and analysis of the current problem and the human rights violations it has created.
Letman, J. (2013). How Climate Change Destroys Human Rights. Aljazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com.
This article briefly discusses two major studies that link human rights violations and climate change. Both studies focus on the exacerbation of population instability due to the annually warming climate. As described, climate change will force people out of their homes and leave them landless as natural disasters become more frequent.
Lonergan, S. (1998). The Role of Environmental Degradation in Population Displacement. Environmental Change and Security Project Report, Issue 4: 5-15.
This reports leads the reader through a set of questions and answers about migration movements and the role of the environment, and concludes with policy recommendations. The report focuses on the importance of sustainable development as a means to human security.
Puthucherril, T. (2013, April 22). Change, Sea Level Rise and Protecting Displaced Coastal Communities: Possible Solutions. Global Journal of Comparative Law. Vol. 1.
This paper outlines 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.
-HAZARDOUS WASTE AND POLLUTION-
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.
Dann, B., Gold, M., Aldalur, M. and Braestrup, A. (series editor), Elder, L. (ed), Neumann, J. (ed). Human Rights & The Ocean: Shipbreaking and Toxins. 4 November 2015. White Paper.
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.
Klaren, F. (2015, April 2). Platform News - 32 Multinational Companies Say ‘No’ to Dirty and Dangerous Shipbreaking. NGO Shipbreaking Platform. Retrieved from http://www.shipbreakingplatform.org
This article explains how some multinational companies are ensuring none of their transports are a part of shipbreaking, and subsequently are putting pressure on other shipowners to change their harmful practices.
Lipman, Z. (2011). Trade in Hazardous Waste: Environmental Justice Versus Economic Growth. Environmental Justice and Legal Process, Macquarie University, Australia.
The Basel Convention, which seeks to stop the transport of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries who 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.
Milmo, C. (2014, March 15). Exclusive: World’s most pristine waters are polluted by US Navy human waste. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk
This article describes the impact of the American military’s pollution on the Chagos Islands. This pollution has caused the original islanders, first removed in the 1970s, to no longer have the opportunity to return to their island home as the military fears repopulation further exacerbate the pollution problem. This is an example of the potential backlash from creating MPAs. It is not, however, meant to discredit the good an MPA can do, but rather to point out the importance of proper and holistic planning.
Mulligan, T. (2015 Nov). "Ship Recycling - Where Ships Go to Die and Gain a New Lease on Life." Maritime Reporter & Engineering News, November 2015 No. 11 Vol. 77.
Ship breaking and recycling, perpetually a hot- button topic, takes center stage again as new international rules come into force. Shipowners stand to regain a substantial amount of their investment by selling ships for recycling, and the cheaper the recycling process, the more they make. But bad breaking practices can cost more than just money and the shipping industry still has major ethical, moral, environmental and publicity issues to resolve when it comes to ship recycling.
NGO Shipbreaking Platform. (2015). What a Difference a Flag Makes. Brussels: Heidegger, P., Jenssen, I., Reuter, D., Mulinaris, N., and Carlsson, F.
This briefing paper focuses on new legislation aimed at regulating ship recycling, modeled after similar EU regulations. It argues 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.
-HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND OVERFISHING-
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.
Braestrup, A., Neumann, J., and Gold, M., Spalding, M. (ed), Middleburg, M. (ed). Human Rights & The Ocean: Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate. 6 April 2016. White Paper.
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.
Conathan, M. and Siciliano, A. (2008) The Future of Seafood Security - The Fight Against Illegal Fishing and Seafood Fraud. Center for American Progress.
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. But, Americans are still consuming millions of tons of unsustainably caught seafood every year - from abroad.
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.
This 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.
Environmental Justice Foundation. (2010). All at Sea - The Abuse of Human Rights aboard Illegal Fishing Vessels. Environmental Justice Foundation: London.
This EJF report argues for a ban of Flags of Convenience (FOC) on fishing vessels in order to stop crew exploitation. It provides a full explanation of the history behind FOCs.
Environmental Justice Foundation. (2015). Pirates and Slaves: How Overfishing in Thailand Fuels Human Trafficking and the Plundering of Our Oceans. London.
This EJF report explores how the international demand for cheap seafood is perpetuating slavery in the fishing industry in Thailand. The report goes one step further than previous reports by blaming countries who demand cheap seafood for the continued use of human trafficking.
Field, M. (2014). The Catch: How Fishing Companies Reinvented Slavery and Plunder the Oceans. AWA Press, Wellington, NZ, 2015.
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.
Gregory, W. (2012). Flags of Convenience: The Development of Open Registries in the Global Maritime Business and Implications for Modern Seafarers (master’s thesis). This paper discusses FOCs in relation to globalization and explains the impact FOCs and open registry have on labor abuses in the fishing industry. This is an in-depth look at the FOC system.
International Labour Organization. (2014, June 11). Maritime Labour Convention.
This article outlines the most recent addition to the Maritime Labour Convention. This new law specifically protects abandoned seafarers and provides financial security for those injured while working. This law is important for those fighting human trafficking through the International Labor Organization and Maritime Labor Organization as it shows how hard it is to implement and enforce laws and conventions at the international level.
International Transport Workers’ Federation. (2006, June). Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
This report provides examples of the horrific conditions facing workers in the maritime and fisheries sector. It exposes failures in the regulation of the industry, which leads to the exploitation of workers. The examples provided give a strong picture of the actual abuse that occurs on vessels and the urgency to stop it.
Langewiesche, W. (2002). The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime. Northpoint Press, Farrar Strauss & Giroux, New York, USA.
Langewische’s book took an early look at the enforcement challenges and lawlessness on the high seas.
McGann, N. (2013). The Opening of Burmese Borders: Impacts on Migration Policy. Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/opening-burmese-borders-impacts-migration
This report looks at the role of the Thai and Burmese governments in response to international pressure to grant state recognition to the people of Burma and to regularize that migration of workers to Thailand, the richer, more economically robust country. Discusses the ongoing political and social discrimination against the Rohingya people who remain unrecognized (and unregistered) by the Burmese government and who form a disproportionate percentage of the men trafficked into slave labor at sea in the Thai fleet.
Reuters. (2015, Feb 25). Overfishing Drives Thai Boats to Use More Slave Labor, Sail Further. International New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/reuters
This New York Times articles addresses how overfishing drives the need for slave labor. It is a succinct explanation of the problem that provides informative statistics from various EJF reports.
United Nations. (2011). Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Vienna.
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.
Warne, K. (2011) Let them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea. Island Press, 2011.
This book focuses on the impact of global shrimp aquaculture production on the coastal mangroves of the tropical and subtropical regions of the world—and the negative effects on coastal livelihoods and marine animal abundance.
Human Rights Watch (2018). Hidden Chains: Rights Abuses and Forced Labor in Thailand's Fishing Industry.
This report documents forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Thai fishing sector. It identifies poor working conditions, recruitment processes, terms of employment, and industry practices that put already vulnerable migrant workers into abusive situations—and often keep them there.