Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, gave the concluding address at the November 21, 2018, event marking World Fishing Day. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Mission, of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See, and the Department of Human Development Service
Integrale-Apostolato del Mare section organized the event at the FAO headquarters in Rome. The topic was “Labor rights are human rights – Working together for the rights of the fishermen and to step up the fight against trafficking in human beings and forced labor in the fishing industry.”
Following is Archbishop Gallagher’s Address:
Mr. Director General, Excellencies,
I am grateful for the invitation to participate in this Special event on the theme of Labour rights are human rights: working together to ensure the rights of fishers – fighting trafficking and forced labor in the fishing sector. Allow me to begin by expressing my gratitude to the FAO, the Dicastery for promoting Integral Human Development and the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the FAO for providing us with the opportunity, on the occasion of World Fisheries Day, to focus our reflection on the importance of respect for fundamental human rights in this sector.
The legal framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides an important point of reference in efforts to promote social development and improve governance for fisheries in developing countries. While the fisheries sector in some countries lacks a systematic and sustained monitoring effort to track fundamental human rights concerns, which include, among other issues, forced evictions, detention without trial, child labor, forced labor and unsafe working conditions, as well as violence and personal security, these issues are by no means unique to fisheries. Fundamental human rights concerns affecting fishing communities are in many cases underappreciated and demand a more comprehensive monitoring and response.
The Holy See has always looked with particular attention to the reality of fishers, seafarers and their families. A clear indication of this involvement in the Apostolate of the Sea that has been active for more than a century, and in particular since 1957, when it was formally given its actual name. This initiative works for the pastoral, social, and material welfare of all seafarers and fishermen regardless of color, race or creed.
In line with this tradition, today I would like to speak about fisheries, sustainable development, the dignity of work, and how it is not possible to guarantee dignified work without also ensuring respect of fundamental human rights.
One year ago, as recalled by the ILO Deputy Director General Mr. Moussa Oumaru, the ILO Work in Fishing Convention came into force, 10 years after its adoption. This was good news for more than 58 million people that are engaged in the sector. As the ILO data reported, approximately 37 percent of them are engaged full time, 23 percent part-time, and the remainder are either occasional fishers or of unspecified status. Over 15 million are working full-time on board fishing vessels. In 2016, the total fish production reached an all-time high of 171 million tonnes, of which 88 percent was utilized for direct human consumption that resulted in a record-high per capita annual consumption of 20.3 kg. Such data clearly indicate that this sector is of fundamental importance not only for its economic impact but, even more, in providing food for millions of people and the sustainability for thousands of coastal communities, in particular in the developing world. The goal of the Work in Fishing Convention is to prevent unacceptable forms of work for fishers all over the world, with a special focus on migrant fishers. While commending this important document, we are here today because a lot of work remains to be done to ensure that every employee in the fishing industry can enjoy the full respect of their human dignity.
In the last decades, globalization has witnessed the onset of more competition, inadequate wages and often harsh conditions for workers in this sector. In many countries, labor protections often remain inadequate or unenforced, exploitation is common as well as child labor and human trafficking. Unfortunately, fishery is one of the sectors in which we can see the most degrading and inhuman work conditions that are almost always followed by further negative repercussions, such as ongoing poverty and the absence of due respect for human dignity. We should not forget, furthermore, that the thousands of people involved in the commercial sea routes, which account for 90% of the merchandise transported globally, are often forced to spend weeks far from their families and communities in almost complete isolation. All of these situations that we are speaking about affect entire communities and, disproportionately, the most vulnerable and the poor, fostering marginalization and exclusion.
Moreover, in the attempt to tackle these problems, we face cross-cutting issues that link together not only labor exploitation, child labor and human trafficking, but even climate change and food security. In fact, the sustainability of the environment is at risk due to the excessive exploitation of maritime resources and illegal or unregulated fishing practices. If not properly addressed, these practices may jeopardize the food security of many countries, bringing economical damages and environmental problems, as well as harming the future of the next generations.
The Holy See, indeed, supports the approach presented in the most recent report of the FAO on “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018” that affirms how “fisheries are not just seen as resources; they are also viewed as sources of livelihoods (e.g. income, food, employment), sites of expression of cultural values, and a buffer against shocks for poor communities. Indeed, to tackle cross-cutting issues, the focus should be on sustainability and accountability, and international organizations should play a pivotal role in this regard. The international community should push for a more comprehensive and resolute approach, taking into account that, too often, small-scale fishers are left behind, because development policies have failed to address the structural uncertainties linked with their situation.
Since many of the problems of this sector are so firmly rooted, it is difficult to imagine how the action of any one international organization, NGO or even government could solve them on their own. What is needed is the cooperation of all of these actors, so as to obtain effective and concrete results that will allow for change in the lives of millions of poor and marginalized fishermen. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrates its seventieth anniversary on December 10th, represents that kind of “shared” approach, based upon the fundamental cornerstone of the entire human rights framework that we should try to preserve, implement and replicate.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is the first and most important document from which began the international juridical discussion on human freedom and dignity. Unfortunately, the consensus that allowed the ratification of that document has weakened and the human rights framework is now facing new challenges and a growing lack of legitimacy all over the world.
Recognizing the legal framework already in place, we may identify three possible areas of action for facilitating a human rights-based approach in reforming the fisheries sector: (a) strengthening the capacity of this framework, to raise awareness of it, and to respond to specific incidents of fundamental human rights abuse; (b) applying a human rights-based approach to address the roots of vulnerability and exclusion in fishing-dependent communities; and (c) supporting fundamental human rights advocacy as a driver in the reform of the fisheries sector. These priorities for action, if implemented together, may help reduce the incidence of rights violations in fishing communities and improve the recourse available when there are legitimate grievances. Pursuing these priorities necessarily means a shift in orientation—or an expansion of the realm of attention—for many initiatives aimed at reforming the fisheries sector. Fundamental human rights advocacy can help create the conditions for small-scale fishing communities to have a voice in decisions regarding the allocation of resource rights, as well as to argue for social justice more broadly. Only then can we reasonably expect local fishing communities to commit themselves to build sustainable resource management over the long term. Regional economic and political groupings (such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, African Union, and the European Union), UN agencies, and other international institutions can exert different forms of pressure on States to act in accordance with international treaties on human rights. They can also incorporate fundamental human rights principles in global codes of conduct and regional agreements, as the European Union has done recently in its new fishing agreements with developing countries. Fishery sector organizations, from state agencies to producer and community organizations, can also play a critical role as proponents of reform, as monitors of progress, and as advocates of best practices to share with others. To remain grounded in local priorities, however, all such efforts need to recognize and reinforce the efforts of those whose rights are at risk.
In conclusion, we need to collaborate today more than ever before. We should propose a broader and more inclusive approach to the issues related to fisheries, aware of the suffering of so many brothers and sisters employed along the full length of the supply chain.
In this seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we should take the consensus that allowed the approval of this fundamental document as an example of overcoming a strictly economic approach, so as to emphasize the right to decent and safe work for everyone.
The Holy See strongly supports the efforts of the international community to put an end to the abuse and criminal practices still present in the fishery sector, it commends the work done by the FAO and assures its cooperation, as much as possible, through the involvement of Catholic institutions.
Thank you for your kind attention. http://www.apostolatusmaris.org/about/  https://www.ilo.org/global/industries-and-sectors/shipping-ports-fisheries-inland-waterways/fisheries/lang– en/index.htm [
3] http://www.fao.org/3/i9540en/I9540EN.pdf [
4] http://www.fao.org/3/i9540en/I9540EN.pdf [01880-EN.01] [Original text: English]