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Have your say: how the ASC Farm Standard can enhance the protection of the rights of Indigenous people in seafood farming

September 21, 2023

Aquaculture and Indigenous people

Unfortunately, seafood farming has not always been conducted with due respect for Indigenous peoples’ rights. In some places, seafood farming, especially that in marine areas, such as salmon farming, is seen as a violation of traditional territories, and a threat to customary activities such as wild capture fisheries and clam collection. However, others, see it as an important creator of jobs and a vital source of income, including for Indigenous people, leading to a strongly polarised debate. Addressing these concerns is not only critical in protecting the human rights of Indigenous people, but also of importance for the long-term sustainability of seafood farming in these places. It is also a topic that is often overlooked by seafood certification programmes.

Free Prior and Informed Consent

When thinking about these issues, it is helpful to consider some of the existing laws and legislation developed by the UN. The right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is a key principle of the main international human rights instruments (treaties and internationals texts) on Indigenous rights (UNDRIP and ILO Convention 169). It requires States and companies to obtain the informed and freely granted consent of Indigenous peoples before starting projects on land or marine territories that Indigenous peoples traditionally own and use, through a meaningful consultation process. FPIC stands for the following principles:

  • FREE: Consent is free, given voluntarily and without coercion, intimidation, or manipulation. It is a process that is self-directed by the community from whom consent is being sought, free from expectations or timelines that are externally imposed.
  • PRIOR: Consent is sought well in advance of the start of any activities.
  • INFORMED: Consent is based on complete, accurate and continuous information about activities, associated risks, and outcomes.
  • CONSENT: Consent is a collective decision made by the community that has claims on a territory and is reached through a decision-making process according to their customs.

ASC and Indigenous people

So, how do these principles relate to ASC and how we work?

Currently, ASC manages 11 species-specific standards covering robust environmental and social requirements that are tailored to the species based on the latest science. However, as each of the standards have been developed at different times, they differ in the way that they include community engagement and Indigenous peoples’ rights. ASC is now developing a single, aligned Farm Standard that will provide greater consistency and harmonise requirements across all farmed seafood species covered by the ASC programme into one rigorous standard. This is also an opportunity to ensure that major human rights risks associated with seafood farming are accounted for in these requirements; The principles of FPIC have long been considered for inclusion.

ASC believes that seafood farms should be following best practice when it comes to engaging communities around their farm sites, but implementing a full FPIC process raises many practical issues for both farms and Indigenous people. Just a few of the major questions include:

  • How should an FPIC process be approached in cases where an activity has already been going on for a long time?
  • How do we ensure that the right people are involved, that all voices are heard and that we have the information and capacity needed for such a process?
  • How can different opinions in communities be reconciled?
  • What is the role of national and local government in this process, including in countries where there is a limited or absent legal framework?

To attempt to answer these questions, and many others, ASC has started a project to explore how the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent can be robustly incorporated into the ASC Farm Standard. This began with a student research project which highlighted how complex these questions are and how polarised opinions are among key stakeholders, which has been described in this blog.

From here, the FPIC project will include diverse viewpoints as well as the latest scientific knowledge on the topic. As a first step, the project Terms of Reference have now been released for public consultation and we welcome your feedback on our plans for this project. Find out more about the public consultation process here.

To find out more about what ASC is doing to improve how Indigenous people’s voices are heard in seafood farming, and to stay up to date with latest developments in this project, please visit our Human Rights page. If you have any questions on this topic, please contact Froukje Kruijssen, senior coordinator social standards: 

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