Human rights issues in seafood value chains pose major legal risk

ENVIRONMENTAL law firm, ClientEarth, has warned that key seafood products frequently found on EU supermarket shelves may be linked with major human rights impacts and severe environmental degradation – putting European companies and investors at legal risk.

In a new online platform launched today, ClientEarth experts have examined the adverse environmental and human impacts of commonly sold species like Ecuadorian shrimp, Honduran lobster or Moroccan octopus – from the destruction of mangroves that deprives local communities of a major source of food to the high incidence of disabilities among compressor divers forced to go deeper and deeper to catch lobsters.

ClientEarth lawyer Francesca Peretti said “With this platform, we want to give a voice to all the people whose rights and livelihoods are affected by unsustainable fishing or aquaculture practices. Because of the complexity of the seafood value chain, the considerable trade impacts of lobster, shrimps or other kind of seafood we see on supermarket shelves are often unknown – we’re here to shed a light on them.”

The environmental and human rights impacts in the seafood industry are fast becoming a legal issue for companies in the EU – which imports more than 60% of its consumed seafood.

EU decision-makers are currently adopting a new law – the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive – that would ramp-up the requirements for seafood companies, retailers and investors to take measures to clean up their value chains and portfolios by carrying out due diligence and addressing potential and actual adverse impacts on people and the environment.

Peretti said “We trust seafood companies to act responsibly and transparently to ensure the seafood on our plates is not tainted with environmental degradations and human rights abuses. They need to deliver. They are subject to serious legal risk if they don’t.”

The global production of fish and seafood has quadrupled over the past 50 years. While seafood remains a valuable source of income for many, the increased demand and trade is driving overfishing and ecosystems’ destruction across the world – affecting the livelihood and basic rights of local communities.

Addressing value chain risks and upping traceability means companies can minimise legal and reputational risks, as well as starting to manage and mitigate the risk a warming world and biodiversity collapse poses to their business. But it is also a crucial opportunity to maximise profits – and many seafood suppliers are missing it.

Peretti added “The stories we share in this report are yet another example of why this EU law is urgently needed to drive change towards sustainable, responsible and ethical sourcing.

“Value chain due diligence is also a win-win for seafood companies: increasing efforts to mitigate environmental and human rights issues along their value chains is key to avoiding legal risks and making businesses more resilient to climate change and biodiversity loss. It will ultimately maximise traceability, and overall profits.”

Several EU countries including France, Germany and the Netherlands already adopted due diligence laws, and while companies are already subject to international voluntary standards to ensure more responsible supply chains, the EU law would codify it.

A recent report highlighted that increased traceability could maximise profits for the seafood sector by 60%.


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