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Card Parolin denounces smuggling and exploitation of fishermen

Cardinal Parolin denounces the exploitation of fishermen at an FAO event marking World Fisheries Day - AFP

Cardinal Parolin denounces the exploitation of fishermen at an FAO event marking World Fisheries Day - AFP

21/11/2016 17:07

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on Monday denounced the smuggling, trafficking and degrading treatment of fishermen who make a crucial contribution to global food security. He also warned of the risks of uncontrolled fishing which leads to the drastic depletion of certain species and threats to the food chain for future generations.

Philippa Hitchen reports: 

The cardinal’s words came as he visited the Rome headquarters of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation for an event marking World Fisheries Day. He noted that the fisheries sector is a fast growing industry that employs millions of people, enabling the sustenance of families and communities, especially in the developing world.

Cardinal Parolin said  that two centuries after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, almost  21 million people continue to work under coercion, largely in the informal or illegal economy and primarily in labour intensive industries, such as fisheries.  Migrants and victims of trafficking or forced labour are especially vulnerable to exploitation as they seek temporary work through employment agencies.

Workers aboard fishing vessels, he went on, are essentially isolated for long periods, deprived not only of contractual guarantees, but also of the most basic fundamental rights.  Deep sea fishing vessels stay at sea for long periods of time, with crews often kept in degrading conditions, confined spaces and circumstances that are tantamount to detention, he said. These people are victims of a veritable slavery system, the cardinal said and he called for intensified efforts to identify, rescue and rehabilitate fishermen being exploited in this way. 

Finally Cardinal Parolin urged States and governments to tighten laws regulating the fishing industry to uphold human rights and to fight against the traffickers and people smugglers.

Below please find the full text of Cardinal Parolin’s speech:

Mr Director General, Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives, Your Eminence,  FAO Officials, Representatives of Civil Society, Distinguished Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.         I am grateful to the Director General of the FAO, Prof. José Graziano da Silva, for his kind words of welcome.  I should like to express my esteem for the work of the FAO and its attention to the many issues related to human development, which the Catholic Church and the Holy See follow attentively.  I also greet the distinguished speakers, who thanks to their recognised expertise, will give the right emphasis to this event on the occasion of World Fisheries Day.

As we are all aware, the fisheries sector makes a crucial contribution to global food security, human welfare and economic prosperity, and is particularly important to coastal communities in many States.  Fish continues to be one of the most-traded food commodities worldwide and employment in the sector has grown faster than the world’s population (Cfr. FAO, Report on The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014).  The activities of the fisheries sector employs millions of people and enables the sustenance of families, groups and communities.  This is particularly relevant for developing Countries where fish products often account for half of the total value of traded commodities.

In relation to industrial fisheries, however, it is vital that the economic vision does not forget to guarantee a level of human well-being that is compatible with environmental protection, in order to create long-term prosperity and to ensure a sustainable outlook for present and future generations.  For these reasons, the promotion of a sustainable and responsible fishery and aquaculture, must be a fundamental concern for all domestic and international action.

In the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, Pope Francis, reminding us of the importance of safeguarding “ our common house”, emphasizes that: “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons.  What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species.  Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated.  Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them” (n. 40).

As foreseen in the Introduction of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted 20 years ago, “[F]isheries, including aquaculture, provide a vital source of food, employment, recreation, trade and economic well-being for people throughout the world, both for present and future generations and should therefore be conducted in a responsible manner.”  Unfortunately, many areas have reached unsustainable levels of exploitation and the interventions of the international Community, including through the aforementioned Code of Conduct, have essentially prevented the worsening of the situation.

2.         There is, however, another perception, more directly human, and I dare say humanitarian, applying the latest criteria expressed by last May’s Istanbul Summit, which worries the Holy See and, I believe, every person who wisely considers fisheries to be a vital resource for the future of the human family.

Two centuries after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, at least 20.9 million people continue to work under coercion, largely in the informal and illegal economy (Cfr. ILO, Global estimates 2012).  About 90% of today’s forced labour is imposed by private agents, primarily in labour intensive industries, such as fisheries.  The inquiry and work of competent international Organizations – I refer primarily to the FAO and the ILO, but without overlooking the civil society organizations – highlights that fishing and aquaculture have become global industries employing large numbers of workers, often already made vulnerable as migrants, victims of trafficking or forced labour.

Workers engaged through employment agencies face constant job insecurity, as their contracts generally range from five to six months.  Workers employed by cooperatives also face the same insecurity, as one of the requirements for them to maintain their cooperative membership is to keep themselves employed.  They may reapply at the end of each employment period, but there is no guarantee they will be re-hired.

Workers aboard fishing vessels are essentially isolated for long periods, deprived not only of contractual guarantees, but also of the most basic fundamental rights.  Fishing vessels, particularly those involved in deep-sea fishing, have an ever-increasing capability to stay at sea for long periods of time, even up to several years.  Rather than regularly docking, these vessels can “transship” caught fish and fuel via smaller vessels.  For the crews it means living in degrading conditions and in confined spaces, in circumstances that are tantamount to detention, with their documents confiscated and, in only a few cases, returned after long periods of forced and underpaid labour.

All this can mean that the crews of these ships are unable to disembark when in port, and so they are unable to escape, to prevent abuse or to seek assistance.  What’s more, whilst aboard vessels, workers rarely have the possibility to communicate with the outside world.  They may be out of reach of cell phone communication, and barred from using other on-board communication devices such as radios or satellite phones.  We are, in essence, faced with persons deprived of their identity, with low wages and who are unable to rebuild their lives if let free.  They are victims of a veritable slavery system.  This situation is aggravated in the case of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

It should not be forgotten that the industrial sector of fish processing continues to focus on so-called “informal” work, rather than regular recruitment with standard, non fixed-term contracts that provide the minimum social guarantees.  The workers hired through labour brokers or agents, live with permanent job insecurity, made evident by fixed-term contracts which are exclusively managed by the employers.

We are witnesses to a tragic situation, in the face of which the international Community and its Institutions are making efforts to establish and develop specific solutions to eliminate forced labour from the global value chain.  I think, for instance, of the new ILO Strategic Policy Framework, adopted in 2010, or of the recent decisions of the FAO Committee on Fisheries concerning illegal activities linked to the fishing industry.

            ILO’s Conventions, in particular the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188); the FAO Port State Measures Agreement, adopted on 2009 and today in force, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication 2014, provide important guidance and real means to try and stem this phenomenon.  There remains, however, the problem of their effective implementation, or, in other words, the willingness of the various parties involved.

3.        In facing these challenges, the Holy See considers it crucial to develop, in particular, capabilities to monitor, identify and rescue fishermen, who are victims of smuggling, trafficking and degrading treatment.  The current standards of International Law oblige us to go beyond the reasons why individuals turn to smugglers and traffickers.  We have not only a moral obligation to give people other opportunities, but also a binding obligation to offer them another chance.

An initial answer, on a practical level, may come in the form of tougher legal measures and enforcement procedures, which can benefit migrants working in the fisheries sector, allowing them to escape from human trafficking and slavery.  It could give the necessary emphasis to the results of the Bali Forum of March 2016, which cannot be limited only to the Southeast Asian region, since we are facing a phenomenon rooted in every area and region.  This will help to eradicate the illegal dealings of smugglers and traffickers.

At the intergovernmental level, therefore, it should be recognized that the specialized Agencies of the United Nations, as well as other international Organizations, now have the capacity to draw-up sustainable alternatives; just think of the hypothesis of humanitarian visas, short-term visas, visas for seasonal workers.  Visa legislation in general has failed to keep pace with changes in technology, the digital revolution and the progress that is changing and has changed the world in recent years.

The Countries of origin have the responsibility to facilitate intra-regional labour mobility for those seeking better living conditions.  This may mean ensuring policies on migration, which respect the obligations established in Article 18 of the Protocol to the Palermo Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, on the prevention, suppression and pursuit of trafficking and smugglings of human beings.  Those provisions ask the State to facilitate and accept the return of victims of trafficking or smuggling that are its nationals, or had the right of permanent residence in its territory acquired at the time of their entry into that State, in accordance with its domestic law.

If we strengthen humanitarian border management, we will be able to ensure secure boundaries, free from the abuses of slavery and the trafficking of human beings, whilst providing access to protection for those who are entitled to it, as in the case of fishermen subjected to forced labour.  This approach would also have the advantage of distinguishing between criminals and victims in an objective and thorough way.  Therefore, a range of options should be considered in favour of forced fishermen, who are identified as individuals who do not have any international protection, or who have no right of residence.  These options should also include assistance to help them to return home voluntarily, with financial support during the reintegration phase.

As Pope Francis reminds us: “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources which are meant to be equitably shared by all. Don’t we all want a better, more decent and prosperous life to share with our loved ones?” (Message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees 2016).

4.         In responding to the needs of a changing world that is constantly seeking justice, solidarity, dignity and respect for the rights of every person, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, each of us is called to make their own contribution, in proportion to their ability, to free the slaves from the trade in humans, which is today practised on a global scale.  Only by working together, and coordinating our efforts, we will be able to break the clear chain of exploitation that affects the lives of fishermen in many countries and show that, under International Law, it contains all the elements of a true crime against humanity.

            We must do this by focusing on three fundamental objectives:

aid for the exploited and degraded fishermen, so as to facilitate their rehabilitation and reintegration;

compliance by States and Governments with the existing international rules on fishing, and, specifically, working in the fishing sector;

fighting against trafficking and smuggling using means, including coercive measures, to impose the rule of law and human rights standard.  The ultimate goal is to preserve on the seas the legality that, for centuries, has been a sign of freedom and civilization.

The Holy See is very close to the international Organizations like FAO and ILO, which promote these objectives, and, through the institutions of the Catholic Church in different Countries, it is ready to contribute to this effort.  Our aim from a Christian perspective is “to let the oppressed go free” (Lk 4, 18-19).

Thank you for your attention.

21/11/2016 17:07