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New online tool helps seafood companies fight slavery

Media reports of slavery in the fishing and seafood processing industries have prompted the creation of an online tool that allows companies to asses the likelihood of human rights violations throughout their supply chains.

Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
Migrant workers sort fish and seafood unloaded from a fishing ship at a port in Samut Sakhon province in Thailand on Jan. 22. Reports of slavery in the fishing and seafood processing industries in Thailand prompted the need for The Seafood Slavery Risk Tool.

A new online tool helps seafood companies assess the risk of forced labor or human trafficking in their supply chains, the developers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California have said.

The Seafood Slavery Risk Tool provides a database that can be searched by fishery or country. It then gives a risk rating, which indicates the likelihood of human rights violations.

"The tool is meant to provide an easy starting point for thorough due diligence by those businesses," Sara McDonald, a senior fisheries scientist with the aquarium's Seafood Watch program, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

She said media reports of slavery in the fishing and seafood processing industries had shown the need for such a tool.

Many of those reports focused on Thailand's multibillion-dollar seafood sector, which came under scrutiny after investigations showed widespread slavery, trafficking, and violence on fishing boats and in onshore processing facilities.

The military, which has held power since a 2014 coup, rolled out some reforms after the European Union in 2015 threatened to ban fish imports from Thailand unless it cleaned up the industry.

However, a Human Rights Watch report released last month concluded Thailand had "not taken the steps necessary to end forced labor and other serious abuses on fishing boats."

Exploitation also persists in other fisheries worldwide.

After abuses at sea became public knowledge, Ms. McDonald said "business partners" of the Seafood Watch program – which helps determine if seafood has been produced in an environmentally responsible way – began asking for more information.

"It became evident that publicly available resources to help identify the risks in supply chains weren't available."

To fill that gap, her group partnered with the Hong Kong-based anti-slavery charity Liberty Asia, the Honolulu-based Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a non-profit group that helps to rebuild depleted fish stocks, and Seafish, a public body founded to improve standards in Britain's fisheries.

Over two years, they developed the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, with help from agencies including the United Nations International Labour Organization, the environmental activist group Greenpeace and the United States State Department.

The tool went live on Feb. 1.

In addition to providing information, McDonald said the website should encourage companies to ask questions of their suppliers, which could encourage them to stop abuses.

"We hope the tool will lead to long-term changes to practices in the industry so that seafood that is free of forced labor, human trafficking, and hazardous child labor becomes the norm," she said.

This story was reported by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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