ALFA: Addressing Labor Exploitation in Fishing in ASEAN
The ALFA project will strengthen the capacity of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sectoral bodies and member countries to coordinate and collaborate to address forced labor and abusive working conditions in the region’s fishing industry. ALFA will focus on ASEAN regional policy implementation, and increased engagement with the private sector, worker organizations, and civil society to mitigate forced labor and trafficking, and improve working conditions for a more sustainable, responsible and resilient fishing sector.
Fishing is big business in Southeast Asia. The 10 member states of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) contribute 20% of global fish production ($50 billion) and employ millions of workers in the commercial fishing industry. However, commercial fishing, which crosses international boundaries on the high seas makes transparency, accountability, and oversight extremely difficult. Competition to meet the growing global demand for fish along with improvements in fishing technology have led to overfishing and the depletion of fish stock. Fishing vessels must go further out to sea and stay out longer to catch fewer fish. Increased operational costs of fishing put greater pressure on workers to work longer hours for less pay. Fishers are also vulnerable to forced labor, including deceptive recruitment, withheld wages, and debt bondage.
Forced labor and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing are often interconnected. In Southeast Asia, IUU fishing is rampant due to regulatory gaps, weak capacity for enforcement, and fierce competition to catch limited amounts of fish. An example of IUU fishing is unauthorized transshipment at sea, which can result in fishing crew remaining at sea against their will for months or years. Fishing crews are also subject to harsh and dangerous working conditions, such as long hours, poor hygiene, and occupational hazards. Each year, millions of workers on commercial fishing vessels are injured. However, there are currently no regional standards for occupational safety and health on fishing vessels to protect workers.
Given the transnational nature of fishing, ASEAN is well placed to address labor exploitation at a regional level and strengthen collaboration among member countries to set standards and guidance for the region’s increasingly integrated fishing sector.
The ALFA project will work with ASEAN, labor inspectorates, and sectoral bodies to strengthen ASEAN’s institutional capacity to counter forced labor in the region’s fishing industry. It will establish a platform for cross-sector dialogue, learning, and collaboration among government officials, worker organizations, the private sector, and civil society. The project will also support research to expand the regional evidence base on forced labor and abusive working conditions in the fishing sector.
The ALFA project will assist in developing, piloting, and promoting regional labor and employment guidelines for the fisheries sector through a consultative, multi-sectoral process. These regional labor guidelines will provide an entry point for the establishment of common, regional benchmarks on rights and protection for workers in the industry.
Finally, the ALFA project will design and implement training to increase the capacity of civil society and worker organizations to effectively engage with ASEAN on forced labor and abusive working conditions in the fishing sector. Examples of proposed training include: identification of trafficked fishers at port and at sea; assistance and protection needs of trafficked fishers; safe recruitment practices for fishers; referral, return, and reintegration assistance of trafficked fishers, and related regional and national policies and protections.
Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI)