Assessing and Addressing Social Risks in Fishery Improvement Projects

Over the past decade, Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) have played an important role in helping seafood buyers and local stakeholders to address harmful fishing practices.

While originally designed to tackle environmental sustainability, growing evidence indicated the need for FIPs to approach sustainability more broadly, including considering and then addressing social needs.

Notably in 2021, FisheryProgress, a reporting site utilized by 96% of FIPs, released their Human Rights and Social Responsibility (HRSR) Policy. The policy articulates how FIPs can identify and reduce the risk of human and labor rights abuses and increase transparency around these social efforts. The HRSR Policy provided a critical leverage point to improve rights of seafood workers and help industry address social risk within their supply chains.

Now, two years into the implementation of the HRSR Policy, several FIPs are making tangible progress.

One HRSR Policy requirement, for FIPs that meet one or more of the criteria for increased risk of forced labor and human trafficking, is to complete a risk assessment using the Social Responsibility Assessment Tool for the Seafood Sector (SRA) and submit a social workplan to address issues found in the SRA. The SRA is a diagnostic, benchmarking, and risk-assessment tool for conducting human rights due diligence in seafood supply chains. The SRA was developed by a broad coalition of experts across conservation and social responsibility fields, drawing on specific criteria from international standards and conventions to create a comprehensive set of indicators for social performance that work in large and small-scale fisheries. We encourage all FIPs — whether they meet the criteria for increased risk or not — to conduct an SRA.

SRA Ho-Tu and Gabby Interview Social Responsibility Program Manager, Dr. Gabby Lout, and Asia Fishery Improvement Manager, Ho-Tu Chiang, conducting an onboard interview as part of an SRA in American Samoa.

Similar to how Ocean Outcomes helped shape and lead FIP methodology in its early years, we are now also leading on integrating social requirements into FIPs and scaling the use and uptake of SRAs, through conducting SRAs and training others working in FIPs on SRA use — a new area of work for many of those working in FIPs, which requires new expertise and capacity.

One key requirement for the SRA is that it must be completed by a qualified assessor with human rights and social science expertise, knowledge of fisheries, and competency with the SRA specifically. Therefore, there is an urgent need for specific expertise and capacity related to human and labor rights across the FIP practitioner space. As a nascent space in general in fisheries, a number of issues continue to be raised as a critical barrier for impact and advancement of social responsibility efforts — limited or no social expertise, training, capacity related to human and labor rights, and other social issues.

However, FIPs are faced with limited funding to “do” the SRA meaningfully, and most current funding doesn’t account for the pre-work associated with it — such as capacity building, training, relationship building, and community engagement. The SRA must include consultation with fishers and fisher representatives, for example, fisher trade unions or fisher organizations, labor rights NGOs, or other civil society organizations that represent fishers.

This is an important element of the SRA that must be prioritized and done intentionally, and an element that makes the SRA unique in that it incorporates direct input from those working in the fishery first-hand.

SRA FIP COP Group Photo Group photo at the FIP CoP in Bali.

As more fisheries and seafood supply chains work to begin to address social risk, more and more FIPs will need to effectively complete SRAs. As such, it’s important for those working in FIPs to share lessons learned in order to move towards improved and inclusive assessment practices and ultimately, more effective social improvements. Towards these goals, O2 recently joined the Asia Pacific Fishery Improvement Project Community of Practice (FIP CoP) in Bali, connecting the global community of FIPs to learn from each other and take action to increase FIP impact.

Given the recently released HRSR Policy requirements, a key focus of the meeting involved discussions on how to effectively meet requirements through SRAs. As one of the organizations who helped develop the SRA, trained others on its use, and which has been conducting SRAs across its FIPs, our Social Responsibility Program Manager, Dr. Gabby Lout, was invited to attend to share her vast experience implementing the SRA and developing social workplans in FIPs as a presenter and acting as an expert resource.

SRA Gabby at FIP COP Gabby Lout leading a small group discussion on social responsibility at the FIP CoP.

The O2 team possesses a wealth of knowledge around social responsibility in fisheries improvement, having conducted more SRAs than anyone in the industry.

Gabby specifically has applied the SRA in small- and large-scale fisheries, numerous FIPs, used the SRA as a human rights due diligence tool with seafood retailers, and as a framework to research decent work. Throughout these efforts and initiatives, Gabby trained a variety of local individuals and assessment teams, as local knowledge and participation of local stakeholders is fundamental to the effectiveness of the SRA. From these experiences, Gabby shares three takeaways that have become evident for those wanting to address social risk in FIPs.

First, the SRA is an opportunity to build social expertise and capacity, noting that identifying and/or partnering with individuals who are trained or educated on this complex dimension of fisheries will be critical. As such, the SRA can be a way for environmental and labor and human rights organizations to cultivate necessary collaborations.

“The expertise needed to effectively implement an SRA is specific, and not every organization has this expertise or capacity. The SRA is an opportunity to either develop this capacity internally or identify local experts who can play a key role in the FIP. The SRA can be an entry point to build relationships with local human rights and labor organizations and experts who will be critical actors in the implementation of the social workplan.”

Second, the SRA is an opportunity for organizations to engage with fishers, fishworkers, and communities. FIP implementers who have not engaged with workers and communities related to social aspects have expressed apprehension or hesitancy, as a less familiar focus of FIPs.

“For me, the SRA has always been a key opportunity to engage with fishers or communities. These issues impact them in their daily lives, and if you can show up with humility and desire to understand their “fisher issues,” they will be willing to share.”

Third, we can’t place enough emphasis on the importance of starting — the SRA is the mechanism to understand the social landscape of a FIP and SRA findings are the baseline for making a plan to begin to address social risk.

“While the SRA can be a significant lift and, at present, can feel overwhelming, the SRA is where the work actually starts. We have put so much emphasis on the process of SRA, yet the social workplan is the most critical part. We are now at a point when we need to collectively take the next steps to identify and understand the social landscape (in the SRA) so we can begin the meaningful work to implement the necessary actions and improvements.”

SRA Gabby Interview 1 Gabby Lout conducting an onboard interview as part of an SRA for a longline tuna project in American Samoa.

Effectively assessing and addressing social risk in FIPs will require intentional investments in scaling the SRA.

While we continue to work to do as much, through partnerships with FisheryProgress and others working in FIPs, we recognize there is a need to train more FIP stakeholders on SRAs, as well as conduct more SRAs in the hundreds of FIPs active globally. Over the past year we have begun to do just that — leading SRAs in the tuna longline sector for our FIPs with Fue Shin Fishery Ltd. in Taiwan and working to train our partners at Qingdao Marine Conservation Society in China on SRA implementation in their FIP with the National Fisheries Institute for Fujian Red Swimming Crab. As sustainable seafood continues to grow its emphasis on social responsibility, we look forward to supporting the FIP movement and those sourcing from FIPs to assess and address social risk within their fisheries.