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24 June 2024
Author: Alin Kadfak

Fishy work: A podcast about marine ecologies and labouring at sea

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh / Pexels

Alin Kadfak created a podcast series about the fishing industry and labour to shed light on the often overlooked work done at sea. The podcast aims is to bring discussions with researchers, civil society actors, journalists, and union leaders who have dedicated themselves to understanding the complexities of fisheries governance and labour conditions. The fishing industry faces sustainability challenges, and workers are often exposed to dangerous conditions. We believe that now is a crucial time to address the unjust working conditions in commercial fisheries, particularly in light of recent modern slavery scandals in seafood supply chains.

Why a podcast series about fish and labour?

The answer is easy! We want to bring work the work done far out at sea into your living room, into your earbuds, and your skulls: while you spend your summer holiday sipping piña coladas in the shade, you can also learn one or two about where your seafood comes from.

You might have vague memories of media reports about abuse in the industry, even whisper it quietly, forced labour, that you try not to think about so much as you bite into your tuna sandwiches. But lots is going on beyond romance, scandals and vague guilt.

In this series, we want to learn about fish and work through a series of discussions with researchers, civil society actors, journalists and union leaders, who have dedicated a good deal of their lives to making sense of it all before sharing these discussions with you. We want to take you into deep waters and speak to people who have cast a critical eye over ecologies, labour and fish governance.

Problems far out at sea

Global fisheries governance faces two major sustainability challenges: ensuring seafood products are both ‘green’ and ‘ethical’. Fisheries’ governance is complex: seafood is one of the most traded commodities globally, and supply chains are often long and difficult to trace. Fishing vessels are also one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world due to storms, accidents, handling dangerous equipment on a moving boat, and worker exhaustion due to long working hours and time at sea. An estimated 260 million workers in marine fisheries worldwide, of which 50 million are engaged in direct fishing, and are often subject to conditions that would not be acceptable for terrestrial work.

Now is a critical time to promote equity in a blue economy agenda, particularly in this Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). This means addressing the unjust working conditions in commercial fisheries, revealed by recent modern slavery scandals in seafood supply chains.

Photo credit: Alin Kadfak

Where to begin to understand the challenges?

There are many ways to understand and address work problems at sea. To start with, it is quite clear that marine resource depletion occurs in a context of rapid social-ecological change, whereby ocean warming and acidification alter fish distribution. At the same time, unsustainable and illegal fishing continues to deplete marine resources necessary to seafood workers, while high-value seafood has become a global commodity enmeshed in complex value chains with opaque governance. Fish workers, often migrants, fall in between those cracks of the lawlessness of ocean governance.

This then links to the news you hear about labour abuse occasionally! These fishworkers are vulnerable to systematically abusive labour conditions due to a lack of clear contracts and social benefits; their status as temporary migrants in the host countries; a lack of migrant labour representation and the ability to form unions; and corruption by state officers, including police, immigration and border police.

Photo credit: Alin Kadfak

Ways to solve the problems

Government and non-government actors have started to deal with the problems. Traceability systems are seen as a promising governance mechanism to ensure the flow of information from seafood sources to consumers, and they are a precondition for supply chain interventions that aim to improve working conditions. However, traceability is insufficient, as fishing governance has so far focussed on ecological sustainability, while labour standards often remain inadequate or poorly enforced.

The EU and Sweden have started to promote a ‘Farm to Fork’ ideology as part of the green deal policy, aligning with the corporate efforts to create traceability through private auditing schemes and green labelling. However, studies show that consumers are becoming more critical of these green labels and associating them with greenwashing. We will follow and assess the development of the EU’s new Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Directive. These policies put both ethics and sustainability in global supply chains on the table for corporations to address, with significant consequences for those not meeting the ethical and sustainability requirements.

Another point we would like to address is the role of union and worker-led groups that have tried to push for better working conditions, better salaries and safe migration routes. We should stop the narrative that fish workers are always the victims. As we discuss with our guests in this podcast series, many point to the importance of workers’ agency and collective action. As labour scandals at sea may only address the symptoms of the forced labour problems without dealing with the underlying root causes, many researchers and civil society emphasise the importance of recognising workers as individuals and as a collective group of people fighting for decent working conditions, and decent pay for the hard work they are doing.

When should we expect the next episode?

Join us for the very first episode of season one as we cast off into a sea of trash fish, worker precarity, racism, and labour campaigns to name but a few of the topics we’ll find stranded and floating in the sea. We will release one episode per month on the third Monday of the month, starting in June. Each episode is unique, feasting two expert guests to deep dive into a topic in a digestible way. It is best to click subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review if you like the show!

Fishy work podcast – first episode

Authored by Fishy Work podcast hosts:

Alin Kadfak is a researcher at the Department of Rural and Urban Development, at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Her current research explores labour rights in sustainable fishing policy and seafood supply chains in South East Asia. She is also a coordinator for SLU global/SIANI.

Ian M. Cook is anthropologist with expert in podcasting and science communication. He is also co-written book Podcast or Perish: Peer Review and Knowledge Creation for the 21st Century.