Certification is not needed to document social sustainability

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By Milthon Lujan

Norway.- “The Norwegian model” with third-party cooperation documents in itself that the fishing industry in Norway is operated in a socially sustainable way. There is no need for any resource-intensive certification scheme.


This was the definitive conclusion when the management authorities, supervisory authorities, representative apparatus for both fleet and industry, representatives for the land-based industry, the fleets, researchers and interest organisations recently met to start work on documenting social sustainability in the Norwegian fishing industry.

Slavery and child labour

From both the international market for Norwegian seafood, and from labour and human rights organisations, there are now requirements that export countries must document that slavery and child labour do not occur and that conditions related to salary, health and safety, and the environment in the workplaces are maintained in accordance with the regulations. Nofima is therefore managing a project financed by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF), which is tasked with documenting the social sustainability of Norwegian fishing industries.

There is much work still to do before the necessary documentation is obtained, but the direction of the conclusion was already outlined during the workshop, where the fishing industries were represented in all stages:


In Norway it is the cooperation between the parties in working life, regulations, management and sanctions that make a resource-intensive certification scheme superfluous.

“Not perfect, but among the best in the world”

It was very encouraging that the entire Norwegian third-party cooperation – between employees, employers and authorities – was broadly represented at the workshop.

“We still have “cracks that must be sealed” in relation to social sustainability in the Norwegian fishing industry, but we have systems that deal with social rights in an entirely different way than many other countries in the world. That a meeting with this composition is gathered here today is unique in a global context, and shows that the system works,” points out HR Manager Kristel Pedersen of the Insula AS seafood group in Lofoten.


“The Norwegian fisheries administration is better than most others in the world. It is not perfect, but is nevertheless among the best in the world,” maintains Morten Hyldborg Jensen of the white fish division of Lerøy Seafood Group.

“We must not be ashamed”

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Working hours, salary, social rights and HSE can also, with third-party cooperation, be documented to get things in order in the Norwegian seafood industry. But what about all the young tongue cutters, for example, children who for generations have used sharp knives and oilskins on northern Norwegian docks and quays during the spawning cod season in midwinter? Can this be perceived as though they are being subjected to child labour?

“No”, was the obvious conclusion at the meeting.


Inshore fisherman Paul Jensen put the whole thing into historical perspective:

“The knowledge I gained as a boy gave me confidence for when I entered the industry as an adult. What I learned was important to me. We learned to gut, we learned to cut tongues and we learned to handle sharp tools. We were pulled into the adult’s world, along with the knowledge that it involved. There are historical descriptions for how important it is for children to get into the industry early on,” says the inshore fisherman, and the conclusion was clear:

“Everything to do with tongue cutting takes place with full transparency. No children are employed or must answer to an employer. The children keep the money they earn. We must not be ashamed of this, and I think that there is unnecessary anxiety in believing that this is going to put the Norwegian fishing industry in an awkward position in terms of social sustainability in that we allow children to gain knowledge of an industry,” says Jensen.

The conclusion at the meeting was that there would be an outcry along the coast if attempts were made to stop children from tongue cutting. However, in a report that will document social sustainability in the industry, the perspective with tongue cutting and child labour must be discussed seriously.


Slavery-like conditions

Researcher Bjørg Helen Nøstvold is leading the research project at Nofima. She has worked with mapping what the situation is like in other countries that export seafood.

“In Southeast Asia, there are some places where fishermen are chained to the boats they are working for and that salary, HSE and other conditions that we take for granted are beyond all criticism. Slavery-like conditions, in other words. In the United Kingdom, some of the fishing fleet use an imported workforce from the Philippines, among others. The fishermen come to the country on a transit visa because they will work outside the twelve-mile limit. They are on board for periods of eight to 12 months and therefore do not have shore leave. However, they are entitled, unlike before, to call home, but we have not been able to ascertain how often this takes place and who pays for the contact with home and family. What we have also found out is that the shipping companies pay for return transport for the fishermen they collect. However, they have no guarantee of this if, for reasons of illness of death in the family or similar, they must return home before the period is over,” explains Nøstvold.

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Complicated and expensive

In Norway, there are regulations, a supervisory arrangement and a set of sanctions in place. The meeting therefore felt that an individual document that refers to “the Norwegian model” should be sufficient to document that the industry in the country has “things in order” when it comes to labour conditions and remuneration. Nobody at the workshop intended to introduce a complicated and expensive certification scheme.

“We believe that one document is good enough. If there are requirements for certification later on, a document that stands on its own feet and which refers to the Norwegian regulations and enforcement of it, will be a good basis for certification,” explains lawyer and adviser Sturla Roald of “Fiskebåt”, which is an interest and employer organisation for the Norwegian sea fishing fleet.

He referred, like several others, to the fact that there are already a number of certification schemes in the industry such as ISO 8000, RFS (Responsible Fishing Scheme) and others.

“However, what they all have in common is that they are currently very expensive or difficult to implement in Norway,” explains Bjørg Helen Nøstvold.


There are “cowboys” in the industry

There is a sizeable element of foreign labour both on land and at sea in the Norwegian industry. Most come to Norway from Eastern European countries which a few years ago became members of the European Union, and thereby were incorporated into the European labour market. In this perspective it was pointed out that despite the regulations and supervisory arrangements, there are probably a number of “cowboys” in the industry, which is why it is important to conduct supervision.

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“It may seem as though we have a way to go when it comes to enforcing the regulations we have to abide by. For example, when it comes to the residential requirements for foreign fishermen. We know that in some cases false postal addresses are used. Stricter enforcement of our regulations and supervisory arrangements will therefore be an advantage,” says Tor Bjørklund Larsen of the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association.


The documentation work continues under the management of Nofima. In the autumn invitations will be sent out for a new workshop to present the findings that have been made and to invite contributions in relation to the conclusion.

“If anyone has any knowledge they would like to share, please feel free to get in touch,” says Bjørg Helen Nøstvold.

Contact person
Bjørg Helen Nøstvold
Phone: +47 905 34 990

Contact person
Pirjo Honkanen
Research Director
Phone: +47 915 94 520

Source: Nofima

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