ICAR Applauds the Biden Administration’s Statement on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Forced Labor While Encouraging Broader Data Collection and Analysis
(July 7 | Washington, DC) – The International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) welcomes the Biden Administration’s announcements at the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal this week. President Biden signed a National Security Memorandum (NSM) to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and forced labor in the seafood industry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has subsequently proposed new measures to combat IUU fishing and forced labor in a proposed rule. The proposed rule would amend the definition of IUU fishing to include any fishing activities beyond national jurisdiction that involve the use of forced labor. This would widen the scope of NOAA’s authority to address labor abuses on fishing vessels.
IUU fishing and forced labor are inextricably linked, as growing seafood demand has increased companies’ push for inexpensive labor. The announcements this week illustrate the Biden administration’s commitment to promoting labor rights in the seafood industry by more directly addressing labor as an element of IUU fishing, strengthening international collaboration and partnerships with non-governmental actors, and tightening existing trade tools. While attention and dissemination of information about these issues are essential, ICAR urges the administration to take concrete steps toward expanding access to data and improving analysis of forced labor and IUU risks generally.
Monday’s NSM focuses on strengthening international partnerships and bolstering existing systems to combat forced labor in the seafood industry. To address labor abuses, the NSM primarily seeks to bolster NOAA by strengthening partnerships with other government agencies, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, think tanks, and labor organizations. For instance, the NSM suggests changes to the Seafood Import Monitoring Program (SIMP), a program within NOAA, which requires importers of thirteen seafood species groups at high risk of IUU fishing and fraud to report and retain chain of custody records. The NSM proposes an expansion of SIMP to include additional species and species groups to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. The NSM also encourages collaboration between NOAA, the United States Trade Representative, and the Secretaries of State, Labor, and Commerce to engage with trade partners to prevent the importation of seafood made with forced labor. The NSM also demonstrated a commitment for government agencies to collaborate with community stakeholders to raise awareness of IUU fishing and labor abuses.
Although ICAR encourages international and inter-agency collaboration and applauds the inclusion of forced labor in the definition of IUU fishing, to better prevent and detect forced labor, the Biden administration and NOAA need to take concrete steps toward implementing these programs.
“The announcement to include forced labor in the definition of IUU fishing is an important step toward preventing forced labor in U.S. seafood supply chains. However, implementation will need to involve the development of labor-related key data indicators and the requirement for disclosure of beneficial ownership information from seafood importers. While we welcome this move by the Biden administration, we’re also waiting to see what tangible implementation looks like,” says Noor Hamadeh, Advocacy Counsel at ICAR.
Currently, the SIMP disclosure requirements provide insight into forced labor risks, but requiring additional information about the “beneficial owners,” the individuals who own, control, and financially benefit from the vessel, can increase the effectiveness of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) withhold release orders (WROs). WROs give CBP the power to detain goods suspected of being produced with forced labor, and without beneficial ownership disclosures, vessels can change names or flags to remain undetected. ICAR also calls on NOAA to expand SIMP to cover all seafood species. Forced labor and human trafficking are not specific to particular types of seafood species and will continue to exist in US seafood supply chains, undetected in seafood species not covered by SIMP.
By highlighting the connection between IUU fishing and forced labor, the Biden administration and NOAA have taken an important step toward promoting labor and human rights. We look forward to seeing these policies turned into concrete action.