Human Rights & The Ocean: Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2016


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.

In this paper, we explore the intersection of human rights abuses and degraded ocean systems with a focus on the under-regulated, under-enforced fishing fleets and seafood processing industry of Southeast Asia. The intertwined abuse of human capital and natural capital ensures that people in the US and UK can eat four times as much shrimp as they did five decades ago, and at half the price. The unsustainable activities that degraded, and continue to degrade, our global fisheries, habitats, and ocean systems also degrade human communities.  As overfishing depleted the world’s fisheries, aquaculture was promoted as a way to diversify community economies and meet the demand for seafood.  Aquaculture now meets more than half the global demand for seafood. Much has been written about how these aquaculture practices degrade coastal and terrestrial habitats, leaving the communities impoverished and bereft of natural resources. In recent years, additional media investigations, NGO and government reports, and books have highlighted the role of modern slavery in global fisheries.  The same slave-based fisheries also help ensure that our pet cats can consume an average of 30 pounds of fish apiece each year. By addressing the human rights violations, we can also address the mindless plundering of the region’s fishery resources.  This paper is not intended to be exhaustive; rather it’s a synthesis of others’ research to offer an overview of the issue, some conclusions about what might be done to preserve human and natural (ocean) capital, and to provide information on additional resources. 

Read the full white paper here.

Read Part I of series, Shipbreaking and Toxins, here.

Matthew Grapengieser / Flickr Creative Commons
Beglen / Flickr Creative Commons