Investing in Corporate Governance

Modern Slavery in Supply Chains: How New Tools Help Investors and Businesses Understand the Risks


What happens when you combine a high market demand for fresh seafood and a dwindling population of potential catches in marine ecosystems? Too often, it’s the creation of unsustainable pressure not only on the environment, but also on laborers employed by commercial fishing operations.

Many people are still unaware of the significant levels of modern slavery in supply chains, especially when it comes to seafood. But a growing number of reports and investigations have shed light on the issue, why it happens, and what investors need to know to ensure they don’t inadvertently support commercial operations that rely on slave labor.

Why Seafood Supply Chains Are So Susceptible to Slavery

Overworked and abused fishermen often come from the impoverished and migrant populations in some of the world’s largest seafood exporting countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia. Others on fishing boat crews are coerced on board or even drugged and kidnapped, according to the South China Morning Post.

The extremely high demand for seafood in the global market—and the increasing cost of commercial fishing—translates into an acute need for ever-cheaper labor for fishing activities. Shrinking fish and shellfish populations also mean fewer legally available potential harvests, further incentivizing both illegal fishing and labor practices.

Disrupting Modern Slavery in Supply Chains

Reports from The New York Times, The Guardian, and other major news outlets have helped expose modern slavery in supply chains. These investigations have sparked government involvement and crackdowns on illegal practices, helping to free a number of workers.

But problems persist, and it’s not always easy for investors to tell the difference between companies that follow sustainable, legal, and ethical practices and operations that abuse both the environment and workers.

A new joint program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, Liberty Asia, and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership may help change that. Together, these organizations have created and published the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, a database to help businesses and investors avoid fisheries that have poor track record on worker treatment and environmental stewardship.

How the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool Helps Investors Make More Ethical Investment Choices

The Seafood Slavery Risk Tool’s methodology includes data-gathering from a number of public records and credible sources to find valid evidence of forced labor, human trafficking, or hazardous child labor in a fishery’s workforce.

The Risk Tool allows investors and businesses to better understand the likelihood that a particular commercial fishery is using unethical or illegal practices—thereby allowing each to make better decisions about what they support financially.

Investors may be able to support positive change by understanding and mitigating supply chain risks in their portfolio. If investors are directly involved in commercial fishing activities, the tool could help them move toward sustainable companies. Investors may also be able to encourage businesses in their portfolio, such as grocery stores, to use tools like the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool when making supplier decisions.

Modern slavery in supply chains is an unfortunate reality. Through knowledge and engagement, investors, activists, and businesses can make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable populations, so that slavery may finally become a thing of the past.

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