Who caught my fish?: Can traceability systems stop labour rights violations in fisheries?

Last changed: 11 December 2023

The project's objective is to investigate the potential of the EU mHREDD directive - Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence - for addressing labour rights in Vietnam’s current fisheries reform. It will answer the question, ‘who is really paying the price for cheap seafood?’ entering the EU market.


Now it is a critical time to promote equity in a blue economy agenda, particularly in this Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).  This means addressing the unjust working conditions in commercial fisheries, revealed by recent modern slavery scandals in seafood supply chains..

Global fisheries governance faces two major sustainability challenges: how to ensure seafood products are both ‘green’ and ‘ethical’(1). Fisheries governance is complex: seafood is one of the most traded commodities globally, with often long and difficult to trace supply chains. Fishing vessels are also the most dangerous workplace in the world, due to storms, accidents, handling dangerous equipment on a moving boat, and worker exhaustion due to long working hours and time at sea.

There are an estimated 260 million workers in marine fisheries worldwide, of which 50 million are engaged in direct fishing, and are subject to working conditions that would not be acceptable for terrestrial work.


An important mechanism for advancing decent work in fisheries is traceability in seafood supply chains. Traceability systems are seen as a promising governance mechanism to ensure the flow of information from seafood sources to consumers, and they are a precondition for supply chain interventions that aim to improve working conditions. Traceability(2) by itself is not sufficient, as fishing governance has so far focussed on ecological sustainability, while labour standards often remain inadequate or poorly enforced.

The EU and Sweden have been promoting a ‘Farm to Fork’ ideology as part of the green deal policy, aligning with the corporate efforts to create traceability through private auditing schemes and green labelling. However, studies already show that consumers are becoming more critical toward these green labels and associate them with green washing.

The Vietnam fishing industry

Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of aquatic products by value, and an important supplier of seafood to EU markets. Its seafood exports to the EU are produced both by fishing and by farming fish (aquaculture), with aquaculture in turn depending on the fishmeal produced from the marine fisheries.  There are an estimated 400,000 workers on larger (industrial) vessels based out of Vietnam, and a million workers in fishing overall, most of whom work under precarious conditions with often declining incomes due to both fishing management policies and overfishing(3).

The project

This project thus investigates how states can require mandatory the EU’s new Mandatory Human Rights and Environmental Due Diligence Directive. These policies put both ethics and sustainability in global supply chains on the table for corporations to address, with significant consequences for those who do not meet the ethical and sustainability requirements. The objective is to investigate the potential of mHREDD law for addressing labour rights in Vietnam’s current fisheries reforms.

This project will make the difficult connections between labour rights violations(4) and fisheries management and ask how efforts to reform fishing management are impacting working conditions.

It will answer the question, ‘who is really paying the price for cheap seafood?’ entering the EU market.

The research builds on the findings of our previous project that explored labour reforms in Thai fisheries (Sweatshops at sea).

SDGs  addressed

SDG1, SDG8, SDG14. Icons.


Project leader

Alin KadfakResearcher, Division of Rural Development, SLU, +46735562441
Read more about Alin Kadfak on her CV page
Send an email to: alin.kadfak@slu.se

Project participants

Peter Vandergeest, Professor Emeritus, Department of Geography, York University, Toronto, Canada
Read more about Peter Vandergeest on his presentation page

Melissa Marschke, Professor, International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada
Read more about Melissa Marschke on her presentation page

Tong Thi Hai Hanh, Institute of Social Sciences in of the Central Region, Vietnam
Read more about Tong Hai Hanh

Project time


External funding

Swedish Research Institute for Sustainable Development - Formas

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