Over the past five years, a series of scandals concerning slave-like working conditions on fishing vessels have provoked global efforts to improve working conditions for fishery workers. Yet initiatives that seek to improve working conditions are hampered by a lack of empirical evidence and explanatory analysis of the dynamics that lead to such unacceptable working conditions, and what actions might be taken to improve them. This research sets out to examine marine fisheries work, focusing on fisheries based out of Thailand and Taiwan that have been identified as having large numbers of migrant workers and instances of labour abuse. We aim, in particular, to understand labour issues as experienced by workers and worker support organizations. We will place these experiences in the context of both the global seafood supply chains (or production networks) and the 'reproduction networks' that link migrant workers with their families and communities in source areas.
The central objective for our research is to explain the social, technological, ecological and economic processes that produce differences in working conditions across space and time, and to identify the reasons that make fishing working conditions unacceptable by most standards that would be applied to terrestrial work. Our research will enable us to contribute to geographical and cognate debates concerning labour geography and migration, political ecology, and global production networks for seafood. The project will advance these academic debates by placing them in conversation with each other through our East and Southeast Asian case studies. It will also contribute to a wider public understanding of labour relations in global food supply chains that include Canadian seafood companies, retailers and consumers as well as enrich public understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world's oceans.
We are conducting this research through collaboration with NGOs and academics in Southeast Asia and Taiwan. This ensures that our results will benefit the work of groups who support workers in the fishing industry: we have worked collaboratively for many years with academics and other organizations in Southeast Asia, including sending countries of migrant fish workers (Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar). This project will also showcase graduate research. The graduate researchers on our team are conducting fieldwork and will present their research at conferences and co-author project publications. An expert in geospatial technology will analyze surveillance data for Taiwan's global fishing fleet; its fishing vessels can be found in oceans and ports almost everywhere in the world.
This global-scale research also includes a focus on tuna fisheries in the Pacific, which is the source of much of the canned tuna consumed in Canada, after it is processed in Thailand.
As part of our knowledge mobilizations plan, we will curate a photo-essay, bringing to life the experiences of fish workers on offshore boats, and facilitate three policy forums at the end of the project, aimed to produced policy insights into global fish labour challenges for Thai, Taiwanese and Canadian fisheries. We are also planning a series of high-level, peer-reviewed publications, ensuring each publication is linked with appropriate infographics and public commentary pieces.
This project (2020–2024) is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and hosted at the York Centre for Asian Research, York University.