According to sources close to the talks, top supermarkets and seafood companies are in discussions to launch a North East Scotland pilot scheme to ensure fair employment for migrant crews on UK fishing boats.
Seafood Ethics Action (Sea) Alliance members include Tesco Asda Morrisons Whitby Seafoods. The Seafood Ethics Action (Sea) Alliance is coordinating discussions on behalf its members, who together represent 95 percent of the UK’s seafood market.
The seafood industry has been heavily criticized for its dependency on low-paid fishermen, mainly from the Philippines, Ghana and Sri Lanka.
Many migrant fishermen are employed by a loophole in immigration law that does not protect them under UK employment laws because the boats on which they fish fish in international waters. Human Rights Lawyers have claimed that the system encourages modern slavery.
The government is facing an judicial review of the “transit visas” system that underpins this type of employment. This was the topic of last month.
Pilot program “Worker-driven Social Responsibility” would set minimum standards for wages, rest, and grievance procedures. The pilot is being developed in consultation with the workers and suppliers participating will be audited, but details are not finalised yet.
Mike Park, chief of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association (the largest fish producer group of Europe), said that some critics of “transit visas” currently believe they can pay whatever they want to workers, as they are not bound by UK laws. We would like to change the scheme so that losing your spot [in the program] becomes an economic issue.
The SWFPA and the North East Scotland Pilot Association will launch this pilot in partnership. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF), a global collective of trade unions, advises on the project in its capacity as a stakeholder.
Andy Hickman is the head of the Sea alliance. He said that the Sea alliance, and its member companies, are encouraged by the creation of a pilot program within the Scottish fisheries sector. The project was driven by ‘worker-driven responsibility’.
He said that the group is in “active discussion” with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry and worker welfare groups to “understand the role we could play in this project”.
Jessica Sparks is an assistant professor of the Friedman School, Tufts University, who is working on the design and implementation of the pilot. She said that it was important to not rush the process, and to make sure it was “truly driven by workers”.
She said that the independent standards council of the scheme must “be rooted in the local context”. . . “We want to make sure that workers will use it and trust it”.
The pilot project is being developed with Fair Food Program in the US, an initiative worker-driven that protects the right of migrant tomato pickers in Florida.
Park stated that he hopes the “nuts-and-bolts” of the program can be agreed upon by the end 2023 with the view to launch it next year. The scheme, if successful, could be replicated throughout the UK.
Humanity United, Freedom Fund and other philanthropic organizations are funding the initial phase of the project before it becomes self-funded.