Sustainability standards for seafood mainly address environmental performance criteria and are less concerned with the welfare of fisheries workers who produce the seafood. Yet human rights violations such as slavery and human trafficking are widespread in fisheries around the world, and underscore the need for certification bodies and other seafood supply chain actors to improve social performance, in addition to addressing environmental challenges. Calls for socially responsible seafood have referenced human rights law and policy frameworks to shape the guiding principles of socially responsible seafood and to provide the legal machinery to implement these aspirations, but practical guidance on how to achieve this is lacking. To provide clarity on this challenge, we reviewed the literature concerning human rights in the seafood supply chain, and prepared an analysis of opportunities and challenges to implement socially responsible seafood through relevant human rights, legal and policy instruments. We observe that human rights laws are generally framed in favour of addressing violations of civil and political rights, but there remains considerable scope for applying economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights in this context. Other challenges include weakly defined ESC rights infringements, a lack of straightforward mechanisms to enforce human rights entitlements, and practical difficulties such as resources to support and secure rights. On the positive side, governments can draw on international instruments to inspire national policies and legislation to eliminate illegalities from the seafood supply chain. However, for socially responsible seafood principles to translate into tangible actions, these objectives must be rooted in clear legal obligations and be supported by sufficient national capacity and political will.
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