By Eric Barratt, managing director of Sanford Limited
It’s been said that a reputation takes years to build and only moments to destroy. We are learning that here, in New Zealand, after a recent Bloomberg report claiming serious labor abuses on some foreign-chartered fishing vessels (FCVs) operating in our waters. These reports threaten to damage New Zealand’s standing as a responsible fisheries manager and champion of human rights.
While such allegations would be abhorrent anywhere in the world, they are particularly shocking for us because this isn’t the way things are done in New Zealand. We take it as a matter of national pride that we uphold the highest standards of human dignity. Not only is that the right thing to do, it’s also a key competitive advantage in a marketplace in which customers are more carefully scrutinizing where their seafood comes from.
As the largest operator of New Zealand-owned and crewed fishing vessels as well as an FCV operator we have a long-standing reputation for maintaining safe working conditions aboard our vessels. Sanford Limited takes these allegations in respect to abuse on FCV’s very seriously. In response we immediately commissioned our own investigation – much of it conducted by an outside third-party – and were unable to corroborate any of the allegations referenced in the Bloomberg story. Further customer-commissioned independent audits are also being undertaken.
Still, we strongly believe industry-wide reforms are needed to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of all hired crews aboard foreign-chartered fishing vessels. Fortunately, our New Zealand government is taking action.
A special Ministerial Inquiry panel convened to address FCV reforms released its report and recommendations just a few weeks ago. Among the Inquiry report’s proposals are the placement of dedicated monitors aboard each FCV; a standardized reporting process by vessel, operator, and charter party; and the use of updated technology to streamline reports from onboard observers . . . all practices Sanford is proud to have pioneered over the past decade.
Sanford has been the only operator in New Zealand to require independent observers aboard each of our foreign charters during all of their voyages. These observers report on a broad range of onboard activities, including the living and working conditions aboard the vessel — unlike government observers principally charged with monitoring compliance with fisheries regulations. Sanford’s observers have access to satellite phones and email, and are required to immediately report issues of concern directly to Sanford management.
While these would be good practices for all New Zealand operators to adopt, there is more that the FCV industry can do to better protect the crews. That’s why Sanford is taking the following extra steps:
- We are working with our foreign partners to restructure agreements with overseas agencies that arrange employment for the crews for our FCVs to make these agencies responsible for crew recruitment only, not the distribution of salaries.
- We are developing a process whereby all crewmembers would be paid directly in or from New Zealand, rather than by the overseas agency.
- We support greater accountability among all FCV operators so that companies found out of compliance with the Ministerial Inquiry report’s new proposals face appropriate and immediate consequences.
- And we are calling on other FCV companies — especially smaller enterprises that do not have a significant market presence — to adopt these and other measures for the betterment of our industry.
As an established and trusted New Zealand institution, Sanford recognizes that we must be a leader in ensuring safe working conditions and fair employment practices.
We welcome this responsibility, just as we have for more than 130 years. And we are honored to do our part to uphold our nation’s global reputation for honesty, integrity, compassion and fairness to all.
To learn more about what Sanford is doing to improve fishing practices in New Zealand waters and to get the latest information about Sanford in the news, continue to visit SanfordFacts.com