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Labour Exploitation

Fishing industry harnesses technology to fight abuse


Dr. Darian McBain

Global Director for Sustainable Development, Thai Union

Digital technology is improving transparency within the fishing industry, and helping crews to stay better connected.

What happens at sea, stays at sea – or at least that was how it used to be. The fishing industry in Thailand has been under particular scrutiny for its treatment of migrant workers and earlier this year the International Labour Organisation (ILO) urged the Thai government to remedy the abuses on fishing vessels operating in Thai waters.

Technology improves transparency

In the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles from land and human contact, with no satellite, no mobile phone signal, and scant paper records, it’s easy to see how isolated crews are open to abuse.

In response, the global fish processing company, Thai Union, has been looking for innovative ways to improve transparency throughout their supply chain. “By fixing a satellite to the vessel, a ship’s crew can use e-logbooks to capture fishing information, which will help to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and make sure there is compliance on board vessels,” explains Dr. Darian McBain, Global Director for Sustainable Development at Thai Union.

With no satellite or mobile phone signal, it’s easy to see how isolated crews are open to abuse.

Following a successful pilot project earlier this year, the company are planning to roll out the initiative on a number of other vessels. Not only will this help to protect crew, it will also provide the company’s global customers with the ability to trace the product from catch to consumption – something that more brands are now pushing for.

Helping crews stay connected

Harnessing the power of the satellite, the company have also developed an app to allow crew members to contact loved ones and report any unacceptable working practices they experience while on board.

A mobile app to allow crew members to contact loved ones.

“After monitoring the pilot project what we discovered was that crews were just glad to be able to contact home,” says McBain. “There was a father who was calling his son every day just to see how he was getting on at school. He’d not been able to do that before; it was really humanising. It’s vital to ensure people are not being exploited, but it’s also important to make sure people can continue to live their lives.” 

Expanding digital technology

Thai Union are planning not only to encourage greater uptake of the technology on other vessels and by other fishing companies, but also to expand the capabilities of the system to include more in-depth monitoring of conditions and working practices on board.

It’s a step in the right direction, but, as the ILO report highlighted, ending of human rights violations in the industry will take a united effort including global brands, local supply chains, recruiters and the government. 

Ending human rights violations will take a united effort between global brands and local supply chains.

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