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Seafood is the world's most internationally traded food commodity. Approximately three out of every seven people globally rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein (1). Revelations about slavery and labor rights abuses in fisheries have sparked outrage and shifted the conversation (2, 3), placing social issues at the forefront of a sector that has spent decades working to improve environmental sustainability. In response, businesses are seeking to reduce unethical practices and reputational risks in their supply chains. Governments are formulating policy responses, and nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are deploying resources and expertise to address critical social issues. Yet the scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the sector. As the United Nations Ocean Conference convenes in New York (5 to 9 June), we propose a framework for social responsibility and identify key steps the scientific community must take to inform policy and practice for this global challenge.
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INSIGHTS
sciencemag.org SCIENCE
PHOTO: AU-UN IST PHOTO/STUART PRICE
By John N. Kittinger, Lydia C. L. Teh,
Edward H. Allison, Nathan J. Bennett,
Larry B. Crowder, Elena M. Finkbeiner,
Christina Hicks, Cheryl G. Scarton,
Katrina Nakamura, Yoshitaka Ota,
Jhana Young, Aurora Alifano, Ashley
Apel, Allison Arbib, Lori Bishop, Mariah
Boyle, Andrés M. Cisneros-Montemayor,
Philip Hunter, Elodie Le Cornu, Max
Levine, Richard S. Jones, J. Zachary
Koehn, Melissa Marschke, Julia G. Mason,
Fiorenza Micheli, Loren McClenachan,
Charlotte Opal, Jonathan Peacey, S. Hoyt
Peckham, Eva Schemmel, Vivienne Solis-
Rivera, Wilf Swartz, T. ‘Aulani Wilhelm
Seafood is the world’s most interna-
tionally traded food commodity. Ap-
proximately three out of every seven
people globally rely on seafood as a
primary source of animal protein (1).
Revelations about slavery and labor
rights abuses in fisheries have sparked out-
rage and shifted the conversation (2, 3), plac-
ing social issues at the forefront of a sector
that has spent decades working to improve
environmental sustainability. In response,
businesses are seeking to reduce unethi-
cal practices and reputational risks in their
supply chains. Governments are formulating
policy responses, and nonprofit
and philanthropic organizations
are deploying resources and ex-
pertise to address critical social
issues. Yet the scientific com-
munity has not kept pace with
concerns for social issues in the
sector. As the United Nations
Ocean Conference convenes
in New York (5 to 9 June), we
propose a framework for social
responsibility and identify key
steps the scientific community
must take to inform policy and
practice for this global challenge.
Over the past several decades,
the scientific community has
invested sizable effort in deter-
mining key elements for environ-
mental sustainability in fisheries
and aquaculture, informing the
creation of globally recognized
standards [e.g., (4)]. A similar effort is now
needed for social responsibility, yet compara-
tively little research effort has been invested
in the social dimensions of seafood sustain-
ability. As a result, the seafood sector has
largely been in a reactive stance, respond-
ing to visible issues associated with slavery
and human rights. Although these egregious
violations must be eliminated, social respon-
sibility encompasses far more, and a narrow
focus overlooks other pervasive issues that
have real-world impacts on billions of people.
To remedy this, we developed a compre-
hensive framework for social responsibility,
responding to a need for alignment around a
shared, transdisciplinary approach, informed
by a strong scientific basis to support policy
and practice. Policy instruments such as the
International Labour Organization’s Work in
Fishing Convention, the Food and Agricul-
ture Organization of the United Nations’ Vol-
untary Guidelines for Securing Small-Scale
Fisheries, and the UN’s guiding principles on
business and human rights are already being
used by governments, businesses, and non-
profit organizations as the basis for action
on specific issues, such as human rights and
labor. Our framework unites a diverse set of
social issues that have heretofore been frag-
mented and is informed by social science
research on human rights, natural resource
management, and international develop-
ment. Our framework is also informed by
practical experience from organizations and
experts that work in the seafood sector and is
supported by a strong legal and policy basis
for implementation, as indicated by review
of international law, policy, and guidance
(table S1). The framework comprises three
components (see fig. S1): (i) protecting hu-
man rights and dignity and respecting ac-
cess to resources, (ii) ensuring equality and
equitable opportunities to benefit, and (iii)
improving food and livelihood security (see
the photo).
FRAMING SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Protecting human rights requires that fun-
damental human rights are respected, labor
rights are protected, and decent working
conditions and safety standards are pro-
vided, particularly for at-risk groups. Human
rights violations range in severity from the
most egregious, such as slavery, to less acute
but pervasive practices such as abrogation of
wages, poor working conditions, and restric-
tions on freedoms. Violation of these rights
in the seafood industry has been observed in
both developing and developed economies
(5). A largely overlooked, but critical, aspect
of human rights is rights to re-
sources, including traditional
tenure and access rights. These
social, economic, and cultural
rights are central to many indig-
enous management systems and
are especially rele-vant in small-
scale and customary fisheries
that supply most of the catch for
direct human consumption but
where regulatory institutions to
protect fishers’ interests are gen-
erally lacking (6).
Ensuring that seafood is eq-
uitably produced requires that
benefits derived from its pro-
duction accrue to all partici-
pants in the supply chain (e.g.,
fishers, processors, and dis-
tributors), not just those with
financial or political power (7).
Ensuring equality requires that
SCIENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Committing to socially responsible seafood
POLICY FORUM
Ocean science must evolve to meet social challenges in the seafood sector
A man carries a sailfish to the Xamar Weyne district fish market in Mogadishu,
Somalia. Overfishing by foreign vessels affects Somali food and income security.
912 2 JUNE 2017 • VOL 356 ISSUE 6341
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SCIENCE sciencemag.org
workers receive appropriate recognition,
voice, and engagement, irrespective of their
gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, or so-
cioeconomic status. Marginalized groups,
such as women, are often discounted in
terms of their role, knowledge, or influence
in fisheries (8), and the high prevalence of
migrant labor in the seafood industry can
create conditions ripe for discrimination
(5). Failure to recognize issues of equity
and social justice can result in misguided
policies, often with consequences for small-
scale producers, minorities, or women (9).
Improving food and livelihood security re-
quires that ocean-dependent communities,
some of the most vulnerable people in the
world, do not suffer from the global seafood
trade (8). In coastal fisheries in Africa, for ex-
ample, extraction by foreign fleets is reduc-
ing the availability of fish, the main source of
animal protein, affecting both nutritional and
income security (10). Such practices place vul-
nerable populations at risk and run counter
to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs). Businesses are obligated under inter-
national policy to ensure that their practices
do not undermine food and livelihood secu-
rity, including providing fair access to mar-
kets and preserving capabilities for workers
to generate income in the face of social and
environmental change. Businesses can do
more than mitigate their impact and should
seek to improve livelihood conditions where
they operate and ensure food security where
seafood is a critical component of diets (11).
SCIENCE FOR A SEA CHANGE
This framework can aid in global alignment
among governments, businesses, civil soci-
ety and nonprofit organizations, driving in-
tegration of social responsibility into policy,
practice, and ultimately performance in the
sector. Here, we identify opportunities for
the scientific community to support this
transition by providing relevant knowledge
to inform actionable approaches toward so-
cial outcomes.
First, ocean science must evolve—incorpo-
rating a stronger focus on social dimensions
and their linkages to environmental issues.
Social science is embedded in sustainability
science, but key social science concepts such
as agency, inequality, and social justice are
missing from many sustainability efforts (12),
and social science research capacity in the
sector is woefully inadequate. Environmental
challenges—including habitat destruction,
overfishing, and resource collapse—threaten
the viability of livelihoods and food security
and create conditions for discrimination
and subversion of human rights. Social and
environmental issues often overlap in the
same geographies, such as Southeast Asia, a
hotspot of overfishing and labor issues (13). In
these areas, slavery and forced labor depress
the true cost of extraction, which distorts the
market and promotes overexploitation (14).
The research community can play a timely
and important role in assessing the linkages
between environmental sustainability and
social issues, bringing necessary expertise
together to inform responses by businesses,
government, nonprofits, and communities.
The UN SDGs explicitly recognize the link
between ecosystem health and human well-
being, but more integrated approaches need
to be developed to address these issues in the
fisheries and aquaculture sector.
Second, the scientific community has a
major role to play in research, monitoring,
and analysis of the seafood sector, including
developing rigorous, objective approaches
to evaluate performance. Evidence-based
assessments are needed to understand the
scale of social abuses and the efficacy of ap-
proaches, particularly as governments begin
to translate existing international laws, poli-
cies, and guidance (table S1) into domestic
laws, regional initiatives, and regulations
to improve industry practices. Social sci-
ence provides a strong foundation for these
approaches, and existing performance in-
dicators and tools [e.g., (12, 15)] need to be
adapted to meet this challenge. The research
community can also integrate social respon-
sibility indicators into globally accepted per-
formance standards for sustainable seafood
by ratings and certification schemes, reduc-
ing the prevalence of social abuses and risks
for businesses. Continued development of
research approaches, tools, and technologies
will be critical, particularly to ensure trans-
parency and accountability, to reduce risk
and secure market incentives for businesses,
and to produce credible information while
considering the sensitivity and risk associ-
ated with researching these issues (13).
Third, the research community must be
responsive to real-world needs. The current
level of commitment to integrating the pri-
orities of stakeholders and decision-makers
into research is inadequate. This requires
more than simply training and hiring more
social scientists in the sector—it requires a
shift in (i) the way social and environmental
research is conceptualized and conducted
together with stakeholders, (ii) the expertise
prioritized in the development of research
capacity and initiatives, and (iii) the level
of resources directed toward these issues.
This requires prioritizing the coproduc-
tion of knowledge with the scientific com-
munity engaged together with stakeholders
in a participatory approach to develop re-
search initiatives that have a clear pathway
for implementation in practice. The ocean
science community can benefit from experi-
ence in other production sectors—including
agriculture, forestry, energy, and mining—
that have addressed similar challenges by
investing in shared strategies, a strong mul-
tidisciplinary evidence base, and collabora-
tive institutional arrangements and global
research networks [e.g., (16, 17)].
By 2030, the oceans will need to supply 152
to 188 million metric tons of seafood to nour-
ish a growing population (18). Fulfilling this
demand in a socially and environmentally
sustainable manner will require increased
investment from public and private sources,
so that the level of resources and expertise
committed is commensurate with the scale
of these challenges. Across the sector, organi-
zations that work on environmental sustain-
ability issues will need to work more closely
with socially focused organizations, as these
issues are intrinsically linked and require
joint investments. The global conversation
about social issues presents an opportunity
for the seafood sector to take steps to ensure
that a healthy ocean will support human
well-being, now and into the future.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
1. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations,
“The state of world fisheries and aquaculture” (FAO, 2016).
2. K. Hodal , C. Kelly, F. Law rence, Guardian, 10 June 2014.
3. M. Mendoza, R. McDowell, M. Mason, E. Htusan, “Fishermen
slaves: Human trafficking and the seafood we eat”
(Associated Press, 15 March 2016).
4. Marine Stewardship Council, “MSC fisheries standard”
(MSC, London, 2014).
5. M. Ma rsch ke, P. Vanderge est, Ma r. Po l ic y 68, 39 (2016).
6. C. Sharma, Mar. Stud. 10, 41 (2 011).
7. C. Béné, R. Lawton, E. H. Allison, Worl d De v. 38, 933 (2010).
8 . N. Weerat unge, K . A. Snyder, C. P. Sze, Fish Fish. 11, 405
(2010).
9. E. H. Allison, F. Ellis, Mar. Pol i cy 25, 377 (2001).
10. J. S. Brashares et al., Science 306, 1180 (2004).
11 . C. D. G old en et al., Nature 534, 317 (2016).
12. C. C. Hic ks et al., Science 352, 38 (2016).
13. J. Stride, D. Murphy, “Assessing government and business
responses to the Thai seafood crisis” (The Freedom Fund,
London, and Humanity United, San Francisco, CA, 2016);
http://freedomfund.org/wp-content/uploads/Thai-
seafood-reforms-FINAL.pdf.
14 . S. Gold , A. Trautri ms, Z . Trodd, Supply Chain Manag. Int. J.
20, 485 (2015).
15. J. L. Anderson et al., P LOS ONE 10, e0122809 (2015).
16. Humanity United, Free and Fair Labor in Palm Oil Production:
Principles and Implementation Guidance (Humanity United,
San Francisco, CA, 2015).
17. Sustainable Coffee Challenge, “Sustainability Framework”
(Conservation International, 2016)
18. Secretariat, Fishing for a Future, Getting to Eden: Building
an Ideal Future for the Global Fish Food System through
Collective Action (Fishing for a Future, 2013).
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own
and do not reflect the institutional policies or viewpoints of
organizations with which individual authors are affiliated. We
acknowledge support from the Nippon Foundation’s Nereus
Program, the NSF IGERT Program on Ocean Change (award no.
1068839), the Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University,
the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada, and the Liber Ero Fellowship Program.
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
www.sciencemag.org/content/356/6341/912/suppl/DC1
10.1126/science.aam9969
See supplementary materials for author affiliations.
Email: jkittinger@conservation.org
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(6341), 912-913. [doi: 10.1126/science.aam9969]356Science
2017)
Vivienne Solis-Rivera, Wilf Swartz and T. 'Aulani Wilhelm (June 1,
Charlotte Opal, Jonathan Peacey, S. Hoyt Peckham, Eva Schemmel,
Marschke, Julia G. Mason, Fiorenza Micheli, Loren McClenachan,
Cornu, Max Levine, Richard S. Jones, J. Zachary Koehn, Melissa
Boyle, Andrés M. Cisneros-Montemayor, Philip Hunter, Elodie Le
Aurora Alifano, Ashley Apel, Allison Arbib, Lori Bishop, Mariah
Cheryl G. Scarton, Katrina Nakamura, Yoshitaka Ota, Jhana Young,
Bennett, Larry B. Crowder, Elena M. Finkbeiner, Christina Hicks,
John N. Kittinger, Lydia C. L. Teh, Edward H. Allison, Nathan J.
Committing to socially responsible seafood
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Fishermen slaves: Human trafficking and the seafood we eat
  • M Mendoza
  • R Mcdowell
  • M Mason
  • E Htusan
  • Mendoza M.
M. Mendoza, R. McDowell, M. Mason, E. Htusan, "Fishermen slaves: Human trafficking and the seafood we eat" (Associated Press, 15 March 2016).