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How can we ensure human dignity and wellbeing in aquaculture?

December 11, 2023

ASC’s commitment to human and labour rights


Aquaculture plays a crucial role in meeting the world’s growing demand for seafood and, like any other industry, faces its own set of challenges. With the celebration of the 75th International Human Rights Day on 10th December, comes an opportunity to reflect on how the rights of those working in our own sector are being protected by the companies and organisations involved.   Ensuring the welfare of these workers and respecting their human rights requires combined and collective efforts from industry, governments, trade unions, NGOs and certification schemes. 

As part of ASC’s core values, we are working to support the protection of human and labour rights, and empower aquaculture farm and feed mill workers, in the following ways: 

Our comprehensive social standards

As a certification scheme our primary tools to help protect labour and human rights are our social standards, which we update continuously. The current ASC species-specific standards, the ASC Feed Standard and the new ASC Farm Standard launching next year, encompass the five core ILO (International Labour Organisation) labour conventions (the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work), which are freedom of association and collective bargaining, no forced labour, no child labour, no discrimination, and safe and healthy working conditions. But the social standards cover more than that:  aquaculture companies are required to have good management systems in place that can pro-actively detect and address issues, and demonstrate that they are providing employees with knowledge on their rights through clear policies, procedures, training and transparent contracts. Companies should also create opportunities for dialogue and collective bargaining between employees and management, as well as accessible and trusted grievance mechanisms. With all these mechanisms in place, employees will be empowered to help create a workplace that is beneficial to their own wellbeing and that of their families. In addition, the standards cover other aspects of working conditions such as decent working hours and working towards payment of a living wage. Finally, there are also requirements for good community engagement.  

Transparency and accountability

To ensure that these standards deliver on their promise, we also work to ensure strong programme assurance. This accountability starts with transparency as a key feature of the ASC programme. We ensure that all draft and final audit reports are accessible on our website, with further information available on certified farms through an interactive map. We have also developed new requirements that social auditors need to meet as part of ASC’s Certification and Accreditation Requirements. 

Collaboration to empower workers in the sector

We recognise that social audits are not the only answer to ending human rights abuses in the aquaculture sector. Therefore, we are developing other ways to empower workers across the aquaculture industry. This involves the promotion of worker voice by exploring independent grievance mechanisms and developing ways to strengthen labour unions in the sector. We cannot do this in isolation, and recognising the complexity of human rights challenges, we are actively collaborating with seafood buyers and retailers, other rating and certification schemes, NGOs and trade unions.  

Training and capacity building

We are also investing in training and capacity-building to ensure that companies in the aquaculture sector understand and can implement the good practices we are encouraging. This includes training of social auditors as well as developing guidance and other resources. For example, we are developing materials to implement the new living wage requirements.  

Remediation protocol

We recognise that if auditors do detect egregious human rights abuses at farms or feed mills, such as child and forced labour, there is a need for immediate action to safeguard the worker involved. We have therefore developed a remediation protocol that requires the farm or feed mill to carry out remediation. This approach ensures that victims of child or forced labour are not abandoned and at risk of falling into the same situation with a different company. This protocol outlines timelines, steps for remediation, examples of activities and suggests the outside support of other organisations. 

Choosing ASC labelled seafood

By integrating human rights into our mission, ASC is helping to shape the future of sustainable aquaculture. Consumers can be reassured that by choosing ASC labelled seafood, they are making the responsible choice for people and the planet. 

Read more about ASC’s human rights programme here. 

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