Fish for Export: working in the wild capture seafood industry in Indonesia

Fish for Export: working in the wild capture seafood industry in Indonesia


British Academy



PI and Project Team Members

Dr Katharine Jones, Coventry University (PI)
Dr Lisa Rende Taylor, Issara Institute, Bangkok (Co-Investigator), (Late.)
Professor Melda Kamil Ariadno, Centre for Sustainable Ocean Policy (Co-Investigator)
Mrs Dina Nuriyati, SBMI, Indonesia (Researcher)
Mr David Visser, Independent Consultant, Indonesia (Researcher)
Mr Jeremia Humolong Prasetya, Centre for Sustainable Ocean Policy, Indonesia (Researcher)

Project Partners and Countries 

Issara Institute (Bangkok)
Centre for Sustainable Ocean Policy
IOM Indonesia
SBMI Indonesia
INFISA Indonesia
PPI Indonesia
ATLI Indonesia
KNTI Indonesia
Bali Fishers Network, Indonesia

Project Overview

Seafood is big business. It is one of the most traded food commodities worldwide and generates more revenue than meat, tobacco, rice and sugar combined. The European Union (EU), the US and Japan account for around two-thirds of the global value of seafood imports. For business and for consumers seafood is a success story. However, for our oceans and for the people in the low-income countries catching and processing fish the costs and risks of this global industry are substantial. According to the UN, nearly 90 percent of the world’s marine stocks are now fully exploited, over-exploited or completely depleted. For the past decade, journalists and human rights organisations have reported the trafficking, forced labour and even murder of fishers in the Asia-Pacific.

This project aimed to produce robust evidence-driven recommendations to help brand-owners, buyers and suppliers based in the EU and US to better understand where and how they can address any labour abuse risks within their supply chains in Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s second largest producer of seafood after China. Despite this, to our best knowledge, this is the first study to conduct an in-depth review of employment practices within the Indonesia export fishing industry. To date, empirical research in this region has primarily been conducted in Thailand.

The research was funded by British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences, through the joint BA/DFID Programme, ‘Tackling Slavery, Human Trafficking and Child Labour in Modern Business’. The funding programme aimed to support interlinked research and policy interventions, identifying and sharing what works at scale in different contexts whilst working with researchers from developing countries to help build local capacity on these issues. Current understanding of what works in addressing modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour is very limited. We researched three areas:

  1. We mapped employment and recruitment conditions of people who work in the export seafood industry in Indonesia, off-shore (on fishing vessels) and on-shore (in factories).
  2. We explored how US and UK buyers and retailers source seafood from Indonesia, and the nature of their business relationships with their suppliers in Indonesia. · We reviewed the impact of initiatives aimed at improving labour conditions in the seafood industries internationally.
  3. We developed recommendations for international businesses and for the Government of Indonesia.

The study was implemented using qualitative research methods in five field-sites in Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia-speaking researchers conducted 165 interviews with fishers, canning factory workers, stakeholders (government officials, NGO and fishermen’s association representatives), recruiters, supplier company representatives, seafood industry association representatives, global retailers and international experts in the industry. Although the research is now complete, impact activities aimed at encouraging the uptake of recommendations are continuing.

  • Project Impact

    The project continues to generate attention from international companies (retailers and buyers) many of which are keen to engage on addressing potential risks within their Indonesia supply chains. This is driven in part by the negative impact which human trafficking in Thailand has had on their reputations. For the UK companies, the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act, 2015, which requires large brands to report on trafficking in their supply chains. In April 2019 we launched the report to leading UK retailers including the brand-name supermarkets, sourcing companies, major donors and international NGOs. This half-day event was convened in partnership with Seafish, a Non-Departmental Public Body set up to support the £10 billion UK seafood industry. This includes helping companies comply with the Modern Slavery Act and to generally improve labour and environmental conditions in their supply chains. A number of companies are now working on integrating our findings into supply chain improvement programmes in Indonesia. Major donors are devising new funding programmes in the region. In May 2019, we launched the final report with senior representatives of the Government of Indonesia, fishing associations and migrant trade unions. A coalition of partners in Indonesia continue to advocate for improving conditions in the fishing industry in Indonesia, based on implementing project recommendations.


    Fishing for Export: calo recruiters, informality and debt in international supply chains

    Labour Risks in the Thai and Indonesian Fishing Industries: A Practical Guide for Responsible Sourcing

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University of the year shortlisted
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