A Mental Revolution Washing Ashore With The Tide

This article was published in The Jakarta Post paper edition, April 11th 2017, written by FIHRRST Co-founder, H.S. Dillon.

The International Conference on Human Rights Protection in the Fishery Industry hosted by the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry on March 27 provided an opportunity for Minister Susi Pudjiastuti to lay out the thinking behind the new regulations she has introduced.

The horrific reality and practice of modern day slavery in Benjina and Ambon that the Associated Press laid bare two years ago had to be addressed, of course, but not a knee-jerk reaction to appear to be taking action. The whole process of exploitation of fishery resources in Indonesian waters needs to be carefully examined and weaknesses in prevailing regulations addressed in light of the demands of current times.

Considering the complexities of the whole situation, the minister brought on board experts respected for their integrity and competence to solidify her bureaucracy. The first step was to regain control of the fisheries industry in Indonesia, which was accomplished through an initial moratorium and relicensing of vessels permitted to operate in its waters. That Indonesia would no longer tolerate illegal fishing was publicly demonstrated by the arrest and ultimate destruction of unlicensed fishing vessels operating within Indonesian territorial waters. This was no mean feat, as she was confronting deeply entrenched interests, with far reaching tentacles.

Her strong resolve boosted the morale of the ministry’s senior officials, who in turn convinced their staff that mediocrity would no longer be tolerated. In hindsight, this provided enough impetus to greatly enhance delivery at all levels, laying the foundation for a process of mindset shift, engendering a “mental revolution” in the real sense.

Meanwhile, a different line of approach was taken to address the issues affecting those actually working in the industry, for part of the heightened consciousness was to acknowledge that they too have certain rights that must be recognized. In this, the ministry was assisted from a technical standpoint by the Foundation for International Human Rights Reporting Standards (FIHRRST) and the support of the Belgian foreign ministry.

This was to prove a lengthy process for while it is easy enough to say that fishermen’s human rights should be respected, exactly what that means and the practicalities of how this can be achieved is another matter. For a start, fishing is not a standard nine to five job, nor by its very nature is it free from physical hazards.

Then, of course, one has to ensure the livelihoods of the many communities of fisherfolk who to date have been least served by the nation’s economic progress.

For while certification is necessary to ensure standards on larger fishing vessels, this must not come at the expense of smaller fishermen who have already suffered most from the ravages of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF).

The conference, therefore, was a testament to the fortitude of the minister and her team that such things could be achieved at all, for there was no template to work from. No other ministry, indeed no other nation in the world had ever introduced mandatory human rights certification as a prerequisite to obtaining a license to operate. Now, not only has the theoretical groundwork been laid but its practicalities successfully demonstrated with the carrying out of field tests of the certification process, fittingly on a stateowned enterprise.

In praising his fellow minister for introducing such a revolutionary approach, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri stated that it showed the commitment of the government to respect the human rights of all stakeholders in the fishing industry. However, he also acknowledged that not all companies had complied with international human rights principles and his and other ministries still had much work to do.

Yet as elsewhere, much of this can be put down to ignorance, for the concept of human rights in the context of fisheries is novel indeed. Moreover, being a traditional occupation largely passed on from one generation to the next very little has actually been written down in the shape of best practices or rules and regulations. So from top to bottom of the whole industry, this will require the adoption of a totally new mindset.

Commitment will be the key as it is essential that everyone, from boat owner to deckhand, harbormaster to dock police comes on board for what will be a voyage to shape the future of Indonesia’s fishing industry. As with any “creative destruction” there will be casualties, of course; in the case of the venal practices of the past that saw a few line their pockets while strangling the just aspirations of the many; few tears will be shed. The mental revolution that Minister Susi is spearheading provides the opportunity to snap the chains to the bad old days and embark upon a more equitable future.

It is also important to point out that this is not just an exercise in morality, for there is sound economic rationale for adopting these measures. Indonesia is a major exporter of fishery products wherein consumers are increasingly playing the role of the ultimate regulator in voting with their wallets. While this is reflected in stricter governmental requirements on imports, governments only follow the demands of their citizens and there is a growing groundswell for fishery products that are not tainted by any suspicion of slavery. Would a product marked “certified human rights compliant” not attract premium prices?

Nor is there any reason that this should stop with the fishing industry in Indonesia; indeed this should just be a start. For as Minister Susi has pointed out: “We’ve made it safe for your nationals operating in Indonesia waters; who is going to protect the rights of Indonesians working on fishing boats in your waters?”

Indonesia’s leadership is a mental revolution coming in with the tide. Let the resolve to protect fishing crews through mandatory human rights certification wash upon the shores of other maritime powers, and with the receding tide bring greater sustainability, equity, and dignity to the high seas.

Source: The Jakarta Post