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A socially sustainable EU Common Fisheries Policy


Key Traceability has recently completed a project working alongside European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) to set out demands from the Trade Unions for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The project came to a close with a final strategy paper to bring together the final demands from three seminar themes. The complete set of papers can be seen in the following text.


In January 2018, Key Traceability began a project alongside European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) to set out the demands from Trade Unions for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP has so far focussed on the environment and has not paid sufficient attention to the social aspects and human rights of workers relating to sustainable seafood supply. There is a critical and urgent need to mainstream social sustainability within the CFP in order to protect fishery workers in fishing, seafood processing and aquaculture.

The approach of the project was to listen to the seafood workers and their representatives to document their concerns and establish what they want from the CFP to make it socially sustainable. ETF and EFFAT Affiliates (Trade Unions) from all across Europe participated. And Key Traceability partnered with expert fisheries consultants Charlotte Tindall and Melanie Siggs in a consortium named ‘Charmelian’ in order to facilitate the discussions between ETF and EFFAT Affiliates.

The main problem found is that the CFP is not taking social matters into account when setting targets and policies as it does for environment and economics. This has led to improvements in the environmental situation and also profitability for companies, but it has been at the cost of overlooking the social sustainability. As a result fishing remains the most dangerous peacetime occupation, the human rights of seafood workers are violated and policy impacts on fisheries communities are not properly addressed.

There is almost no regard for social criteria, either directly or through social impacts of CFP policy. The wellbeing of 350,000 seafood sector workers within the EU and those outside of the EU supplying seafood to the EU is not a priority of the CFP.

Discussions centred on the role of trade unions and how they can influence in the right places to affect the CFP, how social sustainability should be mainstreamed into specific parts of the regulations (CFP) and how the trade union voice can be better heard and acted upon in the sector.

The journey from sea to plate is a complex network of industries, employing workers on sea and land. That is why the European Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents fishers, has joined EFFAT for a joint project. EFFAT represents workers in the aquaculture and fish processing sectors.” EFFAT and ETF

About the project

The objective of the project was to understand the social impacts and consequences of the CFP so that these aspects can be taken into account within the next CFP reform phase. This is an opportunity for workers’ rights to be more explicitly integrated within the CFP. It is critical that this matter is addressed now so that social sustainability is mainstreamed in the CFP, this has to happen immediately.

The project approach is to bring together facts and figures of the existing situation of the EU seafood sector relating to social sustainability and the CFP. Deficiencies in the CFP and issues for workers that this causes will be highlighted and discussed in this paper to identify options for improving the inclusion of Union views in EU decision making. The research helped to guide the seminars where the views and evidence from the Unions affiliated with ETF and EFFAT formed the final demands paper. Case studies were developed to explore the links between issues, policies and the implications on workers. The intention was to find common ground between Unions, agreeing priorities and ways of engaging with decision makers to ensure the mainstreaming of social in the CFP.

The three core topics of the project are:

  • Market, trade and international dimensions of EU fisheries

  • Health and safety, working conditions, organising and collective bargaining in the fish industry

  • Fisheries management and financial instrument

Theme 1:

The first theme of the ‘Market, Trade and International Dimension of EU Fisheries’ covers how the EU market is controlled, specifically by the common regulation organisation of the market. The Seminar took place in Malaga, Spain on 24th and 25th June 2018 concerning the trade element in terms of international trade of EU member states with third countries, the labour standards in those countries, and brings into question trade agreements and the IUU regulation. The international dimension looks at EU fleets working outside of EU waters and, although also linked to trade, fishery partnership agreements.

Theme 2:

The seminar took place in Venice, Italy on the 14th and 15th November 2018 and was attended by Trade Unions activists or officials representing workers in this sector. The theme focused on ‘Health and Safety, Working Conditions, Organising and Collective Bargaining in the Fish Industry’. The meeting was actively facilitated by consultants to help participants explore the need for better and more uniform representation, identify best practice, and build consensus around potential action.

Fishing is openly accepted as a highly dangerous occupation with statements such as ‘fishermen having a one in twenty chance of being killed on the job’ and the ‘Deadliest Catch’, commonly associated with fishing. Data on accidents and injuries is very limited, often out of date and considered unlikely to tell an accurate picture due to under-reporting. The unclear regulatory framework and lack of health and safety objectives within the CFP is further example of the failure of policy makers to protect the workers within the seafood sector.

Theme 3:

The seminar took place in Boulogne, France on the 26th and 27th February 2019 and was attended by ETF and EFFAT Trade Union affiliates representing workers in this sector. The third theme focused on ‘Fisheries Management and Financial Instrument.’ It was concluded that more social indicators must be included for successful fisheries management, and that financial instrument needs to be more accessible to small scale fishers.

Social objectives are urgently needed in the CFP, to sit alongside environmental (MSY) and economic (profit) ones. There appears to be no effective instrument in the fishing industry where fishers and Trade Unions can effectively influence the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This is evident in regards to fisheries management and the impacts on those working within the sector. At current, the people going to sea and putting food on the table are being marginalised by the regulatory process.

Final Demands of Trade Unions representing seafood workers:

The final strategy paper brought together all three themes to pull out the trade unions’ final set of demands for a socially sustainable CFP. The overarching vision is for an EU Common Fisheries Policy that includes social objectives, which protects workers, includes the views of worker representatives in decision making and understands the impacts of policy decisions on workers and communities. The CFP must value workers in fisheries as well as the environment.

The next review of the functioning of the CFP begins in 2020 and presents an opportunity to address the weaknesses in it social policies and meet the vision of bettering the CFP to become more socially inclusive. The Trade Unions have come together via ETF and EFFAT to agree and articulate the ‘Asks’ presented in the final strategy paper to identify the priorities for meeting this vision.

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