Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards for Advocacy

The International Labor Rights Forum is a human rights organization that advances dignity and justice for workers in the global economy. It works with trade unions, faith-based organizations, environmental groups and community organizations to support workers and their families. ILRF is building coalitions of environmental and human rights organizations to develop holistic solutions to the human and environmental toll caused by the mismanagement of our oceans. ILRF began documenting forced labor and human trafficking in the Thai seafood sector in 2012, with support from Humanity United. Since then, it has convened the Seafood Working Group (WG), a coalition of nearly 60 human rights, labor and environmental organizations from 15 countries. The Seafood Working Group aims to develop and advocate for solutions that promote free and fair conditions for the workers who process and produce seafood in Thailand, as well as improve oversight to reduce IUU fishing on Thai vessels. The Working Group has been influential in working with governments – in Thailand, as well as the United States and European Union – and industry officials to change policies and practices that put seafood sector workers at risk of exploitation.

Overview

ILRF has done incredible work with the Thai Seafood Working Group, created in response to stories of rampant forced labor in Thailand’s seafood sector. Environmental groups were leading much of the advocacy around seafood at the time, but lacked the expertise required to promote solutions that would help trafficked workers. The vision for the WG was to convene a space where labor and environmental experts could align efforts, develop joint campaign asks, and provide mutual support in campaigning for policies and practices that empower workers and protect the environment. It has grown from a small coalition of mostly U.S.-based organizations to an internationally-recognized network of over 60 human rights, labor, and environmental organizations that is influential in government and industry circles. The WG’s Thai civil society members are provided a space to insert their concerns and priorities into international advocacy efforts and affording the WG a way to groundtruth efforts.

How well does this nominee and his or her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?  

ILRF’s Working Group has influenced policy in the US and in Thailand, with strong relationships with government actors in both countries. With a group of environmental and human rights organisations behind them, they have been able to champion the need for sustainable seafood – pushing a definition of sustainable that includes both environmental and social concerns and ending the bifurcation of those two movements. This has, in essence, started to change the public discourse around what constitutes “sustainable.” They have been influential with companies like Thai Union and Walmart, pushing them to change practices and announce new measures and initiatives for seafood sustainability.

In what ways has this nominee positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

The collective voice of ILRF was influential in retaining low rankings and keeping the pressure on Thailand for reforms, in advocating with the US TIP office and the EU DG MARE office.  The’ve also had an impact through advocacy around major US regulations such as the Seafood Import Monitoring Program and the Tariff Act, to push social standards.  They provided feedback to the Marine Stewardship Council that proved critical in their planning for adding a social standard to their certification. The Working Group produced three press releases on behalf of 14 migrant workers detained for criminal defamation after reporting conditions tantamount to forced labor. The WG also organized an action outside the Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. while P.M. Prayut was in town. All of these actions seek to shift the system in Thailand, ending the exploitation of migrant workers and creating a sustainable seafood supply chain.   

In what way do you feel this nominee’s story could inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?  

ILRF’s excellent work facilitating the members of the WG has shown that it is possible to bring together disparate actors from different movements to put their collective heft into demanding reforms. The WG has made great strides in bridging the “blue/green divide,” proving that environmental and human rights groups can be extremely effective working together. For consumers and the public, this group’s collaboration shows that for seafood to be considered sustainable, it is not necessary to make impossible trade-offs between environmental and human rights concerns: illegal is illegal, whether that is fishing in a marine protected zone or with trafficked labour. Lastly, the WG also demonstrates that the drivers and solutions to the environmental problem are inextricably bound to the drivers and solutions to the labour issues. As such, the WG has brought new actors into the battle for sustainable seafood who may not have normally engaged around this issue.

How would the work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?  

ILRF’s model is replicable in any geography, and for a wide range of commodities beyond seafood. ILRF’s Director, Abby McGill, has been extraordinary in the role of facilitator, which is key in groups of stakeholders like this. She can be an excellent mentor as others begin to consider how to pool efforts to effect change in their areas of work.  

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