Contributing to guidance on business responsibility to respect human rights in the fisheries sector

By Elisa Morgera

As part of the One Ocean Hub’s contributions to international processes on business and human rights in the ocean context, the Hub was invited to participate in a consultation on the draft outline of the small-scale fishing section of the FAO Guidance on Social Responsibility in the Fisheries and Aquaculture value chain, and to review the Danish Institute for Human Rights’ Due Diligence Guide for Companies in the Fisheries Value Chain.

FAO Guidance

The FAO Guidance is voluntary, practical, written in simple language, supportive, and based on the wide range of existing international conventions, agreements, and standards. Industry is the target audience, but the FAO Guidance is also expected to be a valuable reference instrument for policymakers, regional fisheries management organisations and civil society, for supporting the protection of human rights and decent working conditions in fisheries and aquaculture value chains.

The Hub recommended that business responsibility to respect human rights in the context of small-scale fisheries considers the human right to a healthy environment, as well as children’s human right to a healthy environment.

In the light of ongoing research in Ghana, it was also cautioned that addressing child labour in fisheries should also give due consideration to children’s human right to education and the inter-generational transmission of Indigenous and local knowledge.

The Hub also underscored the need for capacity building for all to respect human rights, with particular attention to the full range of small-scale fishers’ human rights and the need to avoid discrimination (including gender discrimination) in relation to access to professional qualifications.

The Hub also recommends recalling that companies themselves should set up an internal grievance mechanism, and should support (or at least not impede in any way) access to State dispute settlement mechanisms, taking into account that Indigenous and other small-scale fishers may prefer their own customary approaches to dispute resolution.

Finally, the Hub recommended clarifying that business should ensure genuine collaboration and participation in relevant strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and marine spatial planning as part of business responsibility to respect small-scale fishers’ human rights and everyone’s human right to a healthy environment.

Danish Institute’s Guidance

The Danish Institute published in February 2024 A Human Rights Due Diligence guide for companies in the fisheries value chain that aims to help companies in the fisheries value chain understand and conduct human rights due diligence processes. The Hub contributed evidence from Ghana on tensions between child labour in fisheries and children’s human right to education and the inter-generational transmission of Indigenous and local knowledge; as well as on gender equality in fisheries.

In addition, Hub inputs were incorporated in the Danish Institute’s report on challenges, opportunities and recommendations arising from the 2023 international expert meeting on human rights and fisheries. The overall objective of this meeting was to take stock of relevant developments on human rights issues as related to small-scale fishers, Indigenous Peoples, fish workers and fishing-dependent communities. The meeting also aimed at facilitating knowledge-sharing between key actors and exploring emerging opportunities on these topics. The meeting brought together participants from key UN human rights mechanisms and agencies, the international human rights system, National Human Rights Institutions, representatives of fishers and fishing-dependent communities, civil society organisations, companies, and academia. 

One of the key messages from Hub Director Elisa Morgera, cited in the report, was:

“There have been important developments in environmental law for addressing the implications and impact of the triple planetary crisis on the human rights of small-scale fishers and fishing-dependent communities, including Indigenous Peoples. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the recently adopted Global Biodiversity Framework offer important platforms with relevant guidelines. However, environmental law frameworks often focus on incremental change, lack clarity on State obligations, including minimum required standards for State conduct, and have a vague concept of equity.”

Another key suggestion by the Hub Director was that the international recognition of the human right to a healthy environment offers a programmatic and ‘Systems thinking’ approach to environmental issues.

The report includes important points on business and human rights in the fisheries sector, such as:

  • business activities are often linked to harmful practices, such as Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, overcapacity and overfishing, the destruction of mangroves, pollution, and encroachment on the traditional fishing grounds of Indigenous Peoples;
  • The rights of children and women and girls are particularly at risk of being violated by business activities;
  • Governments should include a section on fisheries and aquaculture in their National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights; and
  • Companies should seek collaboration with civil society actors, Indigenous Peoples, NGOs and national human rights institutes while conducting human rights impact assessments and developing grievance mechanisms.


Elisa Morgera and Bola Erinosho are writing an academic paper on business responsibility to respect the human right to a healthy environment in the ocean context, that will be published in the Research Handbook on Sustainability and Corporate Accountability (Edward Elgar) in 2024. In addition, Elisa Morgera has also been invited to write a chapter titled ‘The evolution of corporate accountability standards at the crossroads of international biodiversity law and human rights: progress and prospects, including for the ocean-climate nexus” for an edited volume on “Corporate accountability and liability for risks to the living environment” (Cambridge University Press).

Related SDGs:

  • Good health and well-being
  • Gender equality
  • Reduced inequality
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Responsible consumption and production
  • Climate action
  • Life below water