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The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) response to the Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) report 'Does it do what it says on the tin' (published February 2023) is outlined below.

16 February 2023

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sets voluntary standards for the ecological sustainability of fisheries. We nonetheless support global efforts to eliminate abhorrent practices, such as forced labour, from the seafood industry and acknowledge the efforts of the many experienced human rights organisations and labour standards working to address these issues.  Our role is to safeguard the oceans. We remain focused on our mission to address the crisis in global overfishing.

We welcome the Human Rights at Sea’s (HRAS) efforts to raise awareness of the importance of tackling human rights abuses and empowering workers in the fishing and seafood industry. However, it is misleading to assess the MSC, an environmental standard-setting organisation, against labour performance criteria as this report has done. 

Tackling over-fishing is an enormous challenge. Over a third of the world’s fisheries are being fished beyond their sustainability limits – this presents huge risks not just for marine biodiversity, but also the many communities around the world which depend upon fishing for their livelihoods. MSC’s mission and expertise is focused on ending over-fishing. If we can achieve this, then the ecological and economic benefits to us all are enormous. 

Our Standards focus on environmental, science-based criteria, nevertheless we are committed to supporting collective efforts to improve human rights and to working with other organisations that have a focus on labour issues. 

The MSC condemns the use of forced or child labour and since 2014, any fishing vessels prosecuted for forced or child labour violations in the previous two years are not eligible to be assessed or certified to the MSC standards.    

We have also introduced measures to increase the amount of information available to seafood buyers on the actions taken by fisheries to address potential labour violations. Information provided by MSC certified fisheries helps to create greater transparency and confidence around their practices.  

For example, MSC fisheries and at-sea supply chain businesses have had to publicly report on their labour practices since 2018. As a result of our program, fisheries representing nearly a fifth of the world’s wild marine catch are reporting on their labour policies and risk mitigation measures, many for the first time.

As part of our eligibility requirements all certified supply chain businesses that undertake processing, packing and manual off-load must undergo an independent third-party labour audit against recognised standards, or submit a self-assessment report to MSC and allow MSC to commission its own independent labour audit.

In October 2022, we published the MSC Labour Eligibility Requirements, which consolidates all our labour policies into a single scheme document. In 2023, we will undertake research, and consultation into options for additional requirements for MSC certificate holders.