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Global union federation, leading labour-based human rights organisation join forces to end exploitation in UK fishing industry

31 Aug 2022
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International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Fair Food Program (FFP) announce collaboration to explore implementation of the award-winning Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model in the UK fishing industry.

JOINT PRESS RELEASE

 A ground-breaking collaboration between unions and a labour-based human rights group has today announced plans to build and launch a pilot program to identify and combat human rights violations on commercial fishing vessels in the United Kingdom. 

The announced partnership between the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ (CIW) Fair Food Program (FFP) — the US-based human rights initiative widely recognised as the gold standardfor monitoring and enforcing workplace protections in food industry supply chains — follows an explosive report released by the University of Nottingham earlier this year that exposed the horrific racial, physical and sexual abuse migrant workers face while working in the UK fishing industry. 

“Human trafficking, forced labour, and other widespread human rights violations impacting migrant fishers working in the UK have been documented by the ITF and many others for years,” said Chris Williams, ITF Fisheries Section expert. “This partnership is another positive step in holding employers, the seafood supply chain, and the UK government to account to end the exploitation of migrant labour on UK flagged fishing vessels.” 

“We are pleased to work with CIW on this project that will develop a genuinely worker-centered model where fishers’ rights are respected, and the pay and conditions reflect the difficult and demanding work that they do,” said Williams. 

ITF Fisheries expert Chris Williams | (Credit: ITF)

The pilot will explore the implementation of CIW’s internationally recognised Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model in the UK fishing industry. The WSR model has been successfully implemented in industries ranging from agriculture to apparel on three continents, with over a decade of proven results.

“The model is designed to empower workers to serve as frontline monitors of their own rights, identifying and addressing longstanding human rights violations where they work” said Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the farmworker-based CIW and one of the principal authors of the Fair Food Program, which was launched in 2010. 

“We go into this collaboration in the fishing industry with our eyes wide open — we know the many daunting challenges that lie ahead for workers who have suffered extreme exploitation in some of the most isolated workplaces in the world,” said Benitez. “But as a community of farmworkers at the bottom of the US food industry’s massive supply chains, we ourselves have successfully risen to demand an end to generations of exploitation and abuse. By educating and mobilising consumers over the past two decades, we built the economic power necessary to launch a new model for real, measurable, worker-driven human rights protections.” 

“Now with a partner like ITF, and with the faith born of our own experience building WSR programs that have achieved previously unimaginable results, we believe that this worker-driven, market-powered model is up to the task of making even the most dangerous and isolated workplaces fair and dignified,” Benitez added.  

The initiative is being funded by Humanity United, the philanthropic organisation dedicated to changing systems that enable conflict and exploitation, and supported by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab, the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers.

 

Dr. Jess Sparks, Associate Director of the University of Nottingham Rights Lab also welcomed the collaboration: ”It is exciting to see this partnership take positive steps toward solutions to address the abuses in UK fishing uncovered in our recent report. This pilot presents an opportunity to demonstrate the transformations that occur when we put fishers first and stop the spread of voluntary international agreements and standards, and non-binding commitments that are devoid of worker-driven monitoring and mandatory enforcement mechanisms that we commonly see in seafood supply chains.”

 

The ITF and the Rights Lab also reiterated calls on the UK Government to reform its immigration rules to close the exploitative ‘transit visa’ loophole and which allows fishing vessel owners to violate migrant fishers’ human rights, which ITF exposed in its report, A one way ticket to labour exploitation, in May 2022.

 

- Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) programs have consistently proven their ability to ensure legal compliance with workers’ rights in industries where lawbreaking by employers has historically been the norm — including the right to free association, which has been a particular focus of WSR programs in apparel.  

 

- The model has won widespread praise from law enforcement agencies and human rights observers alike and is increasingly identified by experts in the field of business and human rights as a highly effective, proven alternative to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) model. 

 

In contrast to CSR, which relies almost entirely on brief, annual audits by for-profit auditing agencies to discover and remedy abuses that occur on a daily, around-the-clock basis, the WSR model brings to bear a comprehensive mix of monitoring and enforcement tools including:

  • 24/7 complaint investigation and resolution mechanisms

 

  • Worker-to-worker education on their rights

 

  • Rigorous workplace inspections that are effectively independent of retailer and employer influences.

 

  • Market consequences established in legally binding agreements with participating brands that require those buyers to suspend purchases from suppliers found to be violating their workers’ rights.  

 

Those elements help achieve two crucial objectives: 

1. Workers are empowered to identify violations and report them, free from the fear of retaliation. 

2. Powerful market incentives are created for employers to fix violations quickly and effectively.   

 

The result is a human rights monitoring and enforcement program fit for the purpose of uncovering and eliminating labour abuses ranging from wage theft to excessive overtime hours, sexual assault, retaliation for worker organising, physical beatings at the hands of employers and even forced labour.

 

About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation of transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 147 countries to secure rights, equality, and justice for their members. We are the voice of 18 million transport workers who move the world. For more information visit www.itfglobal.org

  

About the CIW: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is a human rights organisation, and Presidential Medal recipient, internationally recognised for its achievements in the fields of social responsibility, anti-sexual violence efforts, community organising, and ending slavery.  The CIW’s Fair Food Program is a groundbreaking partnership among farmworkers, growers in nine US states and fourteen major food retailers that buy Fair Food produce.  Fair Food Participating Buyers agree to purchase from suppliers who meet a worker-drafted code of conduct, which includes a zero-tolerance policy for slavery and sexual harassment.  Buyers also pay a “penny-per-pound” premium, which is passed down through the supply chain and paid out directly to workers by their employers to address longstanding farmworker poverty. Since the program’s inception in 2011, Buyers have made more than $40 million in FFP premium payments. For more information, visitwww.fairfoodprogram.org and www.ciw-online.org

 

About the University of Nottingham Rights Lab: The Rights Lab is home to the world's largest and leading group of modern slavery researchers focused on delivering an evidence base to end modern slavery by 2030.