Decent Work in the Fishing Industry

Why teaching decent work in fishing matters

The example of the fishing industry highlights some of the drivers of forced labor in global supply chains. While forced labour happens across all industries and all countries, some activities are more at risk of forced labor and labor exploitation. This is the case of fishing where forced labor has been documented for several decades. Reasons include the hard and hazardous nature of the work, the isolation of the work on board of fishing vessels, and the difficulty of regulating, let alone monitoring fishing in global waters. 

The fishing industry plays a key role in food consumption across the globe and is an important economic sector. Businesses play a key role for preventing and mitigating forced labor and modern slavery in the supply chain, as fishing operators, processing plants, or retailers.

How to use the teaching resource:

Open-source: All teaching resources are available as open-source that can be used as “plug-and-play” modules in class.

No prerequisites: The standard slide deck that is part of the teaching resources is targeted at graduate students but can be modified for different levels (undergraduate, graduate, executive education). No prerequisites are required, although as basic introduction to human and labour rights might be beneficial.

A living document: Lecturers should feel free to adapt the resource to their needs, e.g., to different disciplines, geographic regions, or human rights deep dives.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives include overarching objectives about human rights in business, and sub-objectives that break down the objectives into smaller learning steps and apply the insights to the fishing industry.

  1. Industry context: Understand how the structuring of an industry can enable human rights or lead to violations. Sub-objectives: map the labor rights risks along the fishing value chain, understand the different actors in global fish production and distribution, and learn about the economic relevance of global fish production in producing countries and market states.
  2. Human rights challenges and the role of businesses: Discuss corporate responsibility for human rights along the global value chain. Sub-objectives: examine how the operations of fishing companies can lead to labor rights violations or forced labor, learn how to identify and monitor indicators of forced labor.
  3. Management solutions: Reflect on how management must be an important part of providing holistic solutions. Sub-objectives: develop promising solutions to address human rights and forced labor concerns in the fishing industry, consider short-term and long-term strategies to mitigate human rights risks and remedy human rights abuses.  

The learning objectives can be modified to target different levels. For example:

  • For undergraduate or bachelor students: Use the teaching resource as a way to introduce human rights issues at different stages in the global value chains and introduce the Business and Human Rights (BHR) and International Labor Standards (ILS) framework.  
  • For graduate or master students: Dig deeper into questions of corporate responsibility (and mandatory human rights due diligence), understand how to recognize the indicators of forced labor, and discuss the relation to management and purchasing practices.
  • For executive education and practitioners: Work on specific business practices to address forced labor risks in the value chain, discuss the transferability to different industries, and talk about the role of different stakeholders in the value chain. Tailor the example that is used to start the session to the target audience (e.g., for operations managers in the hospitality sector, discuss sourcing fish, or with professionals working in consumer goods or retail, speak about fish ingredients in cosmetics).

How the teaching resource is structured and how to use it

This resource focuses on decent work and the elimination of forced labor in fishing, providing general information on the industry, macroeconomics data and information about the labor challenges that workers face within it. It presents several practical examples from different countries and different stakeholder perspectives as well as advice to contextualize the learning experience to different audiences. 

The session outline starts with an introduction to set the stage, depending on, e.g., the course, level, and country in which the resource is used (Unit 0). The introduction is followed by three main units that introduce the fishing industry (Unit 1), discuss the human rights challenges and forced labor in particular (Unit 2), and address possible management solutions (Unit 3).

The resource is tailored to be taught during one session of a 2-to-3-hour duration but can be customized to different formats. The teaching resource is targeted at graduate students but can be adapted to different levels (undergraduate, graduate, executive education).

The teaching resource consists of core documents, background material, and examples of teaching experiences. The core documents include a standard session outline and presentation slides. The background material includes reports and media sources that can be assigned to students. The teaching experiences document adaptations of the teaching resource by business school lecturers from different countries and disciplines.

Standard slides and teaching notes

Standard Slide Deck

Based on UNIGE (May 2023), Business and Human Rights, Master Level, 3 hours

Teaching notes

On promoting decent work and the elimination of forced labor in the fishing industry.

Background material

Ian Urbina (January 2021), How fish-meal production is destroying Gambia’s waters

Documentary by Ian Urbina, investigative journalist and founder of ‘The Outlaw Ocean Project’ first published by the New Yorker.

Antonia Cundy (June 2023), The Fishermen

Investigate report about Filipino workers in the UK fishing industry.

ILO (July 2023), Labor Conditions of Fishers are Improving in Ghana

Video on progress made to improve fishers’ labor rights in Ghana.

Associated Press (April 2015- July 2016), Seafood from Slaves

2016 Pulitzer Prize winning investigation helps free slaves in Southeast Asia.

ILO (December 2022), Training and Pilot Inspection on the Detection of Forced Labor in Fishing

Video on joint port inspections of labor conditions onboard fishing vessels in South Africa.

Foreign Policy (since May 2022), The Catch

Podcast series on the fishing industry in North and Latin America.

Teaching experiences

HEC Paris (September 2022), Introduction to Business and Human Rights’ Course, Master Level

Joint class by Charles Autheman and Alison Potter from the ILO. The students were asked to develop a proposal for their company to clean up their supply chains for a hypothetical UN Year Pledge

UNDIP, Indonesia (March 2023)Impressions from the classroom

Promoting decent work in the Indonesian fishing sector.

UNDIP, Indonesia (November 2022), Human Trafficking

Forced Labour and Fisheries, country focus Indonesia

Guest Lecture

About the fishing industry and forced labor

Guest Lecture

Towards decent work in the fishing industry

Guest Lecture

Monitoring labor in the fishing industry

How the teaching resource was developed

The teaching resource on “decent work in the fishing industry” was drafted during a workshop in December 2022 organized at the Geneva School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva. 

Participants included Jaka Aminata (Universitas Diponegoro), Charles Autheman (HEC Paris), Raymond Babanawo (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration), Dorothée Baumann-Pauly (University of Geneva), Victor Cabezas (University of Pennsylvania), Sandy Chong (Curtin University), Cécile Féront (University of Cape Town), Berit Knaak (University of Geneva), Christina Stringer (University of Auckland), Alix Nasri (ILO) and experts in the field of fishing, labour rights, and business and human rights. 

The workshop benefited from field work carried out by the ILO 8.7 Accelerator Lab and the expertise of business school instructors from the three target countries of Indonesia, Ghana and South Africa.

Feedback and questions

Are you looking for an expert to join your class as a guest speaker? Did you use the teaching tool and would like to share your experiences and/or materials? Do you have feedback or questions? 

Feel free to reach out: 

Julianna LaBelle,