Discussions surrounding human rights standards in the seafood supply chain were a focal point of this year’s Seafood Expo Global 23-25 April 2024 in Barcelona.

MSC is going to take stock… and I suspect we will review what we’re doing and make changes.”

Rupert Howes, CEO 

The significant scale of the seafood industry was on full display as hundreds of seafood suppliers, retailers, and buyers have packed the Fira Barcelona Gran Via’s 3 million sq. ft. exhibition space.

Being discussed alongside the likes of procurement, price points, investment in services and market outreach, was the audible interest in human sustainability.

MSC Position

HRAS International Barcelona 24 April MSC Future Forum

During the MSC’s flagship event, the Seafood Futures Forum 2024 on Wednesday 24 April, MSC CEO Rupert Howes explained;

“Social issues are profoundly important and we’re all deeply troubled by what we’re reading… in terms of human rights issues within the global seafood industry… Clearly, it’s a massive issue. MSC is going to take stock… and I suspect we will review what we’re doing and make changes.”

Mr. Howes described ongoing efforts by the MSC to support human rights protections, including stipulations that prohibit businesses that have been successfully prosecuted for labor violations from achieving certification. 

At the time of writing, the level of national and international prosecutions for human and labour rights abuses at sea does not appear to have accurate nor consolidated figures available for be referenced against.

Eco-label Pressures

Today, driven by consumer demand alongside supplier, buyer and retailer business interests, certifications, standards and ratings bodies are facing more scrutiny than ever as public awareness of human and labour rights abuses in the seafood supply chain grows. 

Human sustainability, alongside the established need for environmental and stock sustainability is becoming a necessary business requirement.

In support, other delegate panels at the Expo consistently highlighted the importance of safety, security, and well-being at sea of crew, without which, the industry would not exist. 

Calls for Change

Alongside government representatives from the US Department of Labor and the International Transport Worker’s Federation, Human Rights at Sea International advocated strongly for increased ratification and effective enforcement of existing international laws, worker voice inclusion and businesses to seriously engage on-topic.

David Hammond, Executive Director of Human Rights at Sea International re-asserted the well-known and fundamental need to uphold the international rule of law. This sits alongside the international rules-based environment without which there is no core structure for accountability, effective at-sea enforcement and known deterrent effect in both the wider maritime and seafood sectors.

State-level policies and commercial actions that serve to protect crew welfare are necessary in today’s working environment as no one activity or initiative can succeed alone; another key message during an event sponsored by the retailer-led UL-based Seafood Ethics Action (SEA) Alliance. 

Bolton Foods’ Héctor M. Fernández echoed this call during a separate panel titled ‘Learning from the Experiences of Companies Engaging in Human Rights Due Diligence,’ declaring, ‘If sustainability is not social, it’s not sustainability at all.” 

HRAS International Comment

With the increasing alignment on human sustainability from industry, states and civil society, and noting the comments of MSC’s CEO for the eco-label to take stock on human rights protections, we could be entering a new phase where consumers can be better assured that certified seafood businesses are implementing human rights-focused approaches to protect worker’s rights alongside business continuity.

Video response can be viewed HERE.



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Video credit: David Hammond HRAS International 2024.

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