The global seafood supply chain is complex, more like a web than a chain. When we were developing the first phase of SeaChange®, making sure that workers had the right to work legally, had access to services like bank accounts and hospital care, and understood safe ways to work were all very important to us. Safe & Legal Labor is all about decency in work, corresponding to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) number 8; Decent Work and Economic Growth, and in particular with the ultimate ambition to meet the vision of Target 8.7: To take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor.
But the challenges are too big for one company to solve alone, and so we sought partners to work with us on this journey. With an industry that has so many different aspects to it, and that operates in so many countries with vastly different standards, it was important to make sure our suppliers were aware of exactly what we expect. As a result, a major step was the introduction of our Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct in 2015. An update on our original 2013 code, it focuses on the recruitment and treatment of workers stipulating protocols on employee welfare, benefits, wages, age, the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and non-negotiable frameworks for health and safety. An important part of this Code was ensuring that for our own operations and our supply chains we took a zero-tolerance approach for human rights violations.
But there’s been so much more. Making sure our workers and those of our suppliers have all the protections they need at work and, in many cases, as they travel to new countries to work with us, is vital work that can make a huge difference to everyone’s lives. Whether it’s working to eliminate recruitment fees for migrant workers; or addressing the United Nations to raise awareness of the pressing issue of modern slavery; and participating in, and supporting the Bali Process Business and Government Forum; providing safe and legal labor has been central to our sustainability work under SeaChange® and beyond. We’ve even had initiatives adopted by the Royal Thai government as we work with our suppliers to make sure that their crew members are able to contact shore and report any unsatisfactory, or dangerous, conditions.
We are particularly proud of the implementation of the Thai Union Fishing vessel improvement program and Code of Conduct (VCoC). The program has audited over 150 vessels from across the globe and provided a voice to hundreds of fishermen during confidential interviews. The experienced third-party consultants have engaged with our suppliers to identify areas for continuous improvement and worked to improve conformance against the code. In our 2019 Sustainability Report we embraced our commitment to transparency, publishing an overview of the results of the program and stating our commitment to keep developing the program.
We recognize that some of the labor and human rights challenges being faced by the industry can’t be solved alone and we’re proud to be working alongside a great number of partners from a wide range of sectors and backgrounds. In Thailand we are collaborating with Nestle, The J.M. Smucker Company and Mars Petcare to fund projects to improve the working conditions of fishermen on vessels, with a focus on results from the vessel audits. We joined forces with NGOs such as the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), Labor Rights Promotion Network (LPN), Issara Institute and Verite; We developed practices for worker voice at sea with USAID, evolved tech solutions such as blockchain utilization for fish traceability with FishCoin and to engage workers in the supply chain, and with KBank and Kasikorn Bank Technology Group look at utilizing Blockchain to protect worker documents. More information on this project can also be found in our 2019 Sustainability Report.
Throughout the last five years, our work has been recognized by a number of diverse bodies through their awards programs. These have included being shortlisted and highly commended by Thomson Reuters in their Stop Slavery Awards in 2016 and 2018; winning the 2020 Human Rights Award from the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Thai Ministry of Justice; Dr. Darian McBain being recognized for her outstanding contribution in combatting modern slavery and receiving the 2019 Freedom Award at the Anti-Slavery Australia Freedom Award. We’re very proud of this positive reception of our work.
As we prepare for the launch of the next phase of SeaChange®, Safe & Legal Labor throughout our supply chains and operations will continue to be a key pillar of our sustainability strategy and an area where we’re proud to be having a meaningful, positive effect.