Human and labour rights

Protecting workers in a dangerous industry

Fishing is the world’s most dangerous industry, mixed up with human trafficking, piracy, child labour, modern slavery and even murder. Effective regulation is vital.

Raising standards with ILO and convention 188

The ITF works with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to address the plight of fishers on a global level.  

Our efforts helped to create convention 188, which, for the first time, acknowledges the importance of employment contracts, working hours, rest times and safety standards in the fishing industry.  

Convention 188 has given union affiliates a set of principles to fight for in protecting fishers. It has established concrete standards as a starting point to further regulate the industry.  

Without convention 188, many fishers would remain invisible, vulnerable and open to continued exploitation.

Find out how convention 188 can help to stamp out abuse in the global fishing industry.

Fighting to stop the abuse of fishworkers

Fishers suffer from overwork, non-payment, physical and sexual abuse and are often abandoned in foreign countries without any support.  

This abuse is widespread and occurs on a global level – from Spain to Indonesia, South Africa to New Zealand. Every fishing nation is involved and culpable. The absence of adequate, joined-up regulation has created loopholes in the fishing industry. 

Vessels registered in one country can operate in another’s waters, manned by migrant fishers who work on the peripheries of legal boundaries. These vessels can effectively operate outside the jurisdiction of any authority, leaving their workers at the mercy of ruthless, profit-driven companies. 

With our affiliates, we’re working tirelessly to address this situation. On a grassroots level, our affiliates monitor and help abused fishers. They negotiate medical attention, the payment of missing wages and repatriation.

Their work helps us gather research and present it at national and international forums so we can address the regulatory failings that allow abuse to occur.

Combating social dumping

Social dumping is when companies avoid the minimum wage regulations of one country by employing workers from another. 

Workers of the host country lose out on jobs; migrant workers get jobs, but don't get paid as much and often lose out on decent working conditions. 

ITF affiliates continue to lobby governments and maritime authorities to end this worker abuse. 

Human trafficking in fishing

The lack of regulatory monitoring means the fishing industry is thriving on the misery and degradation of its workers. This is most apparent in the cases of human trafficking that our affiliates have witnessed around the world.  

Young men and women are promised jobs in factories across the country and then find themselves trapped in violent and abusive systems of slavery. They are transported to ships where they are overworked, drugged, beaten, starved and, in some cases, killed. 

The ITF has helped researchers by providing evidence of abuse. It has also participated in the work of international organisations dealing with human trafficking, such as the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and Interpol.

Piracy and armed robbery

Piracy and armed robbery happens at sea, but crews get little protection during or after their ordeals.  

Piracy involves violence, torture, starvation and mutilation. Its victims need psychological support afterwards, which should be offered by flag states and ship owners as directed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  

However, because flag states and ship owners often avoid their duty of care, the ITF and its affiliates also monitor and lobby governments and ship owners to help victims.

Child labour

It’s all too common for children to find themselves in fisheries. They may be helping their families or, at the worst end of the spectrum, caught up in child trafficking.  

The ITF supports all international efforts to stamp out such practices, through organisations including the ILO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Our work in this area has included active participation in the joint ILO/FAO activities to address child labour in fisheries and aquaculture.

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