Today is the United Nations World Day of Social Justice – but what is social justice, and why do we need an international day for it?

The principles of social justice include ideas such as equality of opportunity, fair distribution of wealth, and removing barriers that people face based on gender, age, race, religion, disability, or culture. The UN has marked its commitment to these principles every February 20 since 2008, but ideas of social justice go back much further than that – back to classical philosophers, in fact – and it’s not hard to see how they are still relevant in every society in the world today.

The 2020 theme for World Day of Social Justice is “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice”. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), over 200 million people are out of work around the world, and of those who are employed, over 60% lack any kind of employment contract.

Where does aquaculture fit into this, and why is ASC so interested in a day of social justice? Well, our standards place social issues at the heart of what it means to be a responsible producer. All ASC certified farms must demonstrate social responsibility as well as environmental responsibility, and the independent teams of auditors that visit farms to audit them against the ASC standards must include a qualified social auditor.

Aquaculture can play a vital role in closing the inequalities gap. It provides jobs and livelihoods to millions of people, many in developing countries. But creating jobs is only half the story – if people aren’t fairly paid or treated, those jobs will do nothing to improve social justice.

ASC standards are applied by independent teams that must include a qualified social auditor

ASC’s standards include requirements that all workers are fairly paid, and farms are not allowed to use any form of forced or child labour. But fair treatment of workers goes beyond fair pay, and so do ASC’s standards. All ASC certified farms must provide a safe working environment for their workers – that means properly assessing risks, providing the right training and safety equipment, and covering the medical costs of job-related illness or injury. Farm workers must not be discriminated against based on race, gender or other characteristics, and must be free to collectively bargain, and form or join trade unions if they so wish. Threatening, humiliating or punishing disciplinary practices are also forbidden on ASC certified farms.

The ASC standards go beyond the farm as well. Farms exist within communities, and it is important that they respect these communities and listen to them. That means meaningful consultation with neighbours, respecting the rights and cultures of indigenous communities and maintaining their access to vital resources.

Being socially responsible means being a good neighbour as well as a good employer

All of the above falls into the category of social justice in some way or another – making sure everyone is paid and treated fairly, while providing them with opportunities to thrive. Some or all of the above may strike you as things which all employees should be doing as a matter of course, and we would certainly agree with that. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. And contrary to some assumptions, these issues aren’t simply a problem in developing countries. Social injustices occur everywhere, in different guises, including examples of forced labour and trafficking in more affluent countries, for example, demonstrating that social justice isn’t something that anyone should be complacent about. Every fish farm that applies for ASC certification has to show independent auditors that they are socially responsible, no matter where they are operating.

The ILO has made clear that globalization has provided new opportunities for economic growth and global interconnectedness while also providing new challenges to the principles of social justice. It also provides opportunities for you to take action to preserve and promote social justice, wherever you are. ASC certified farms operate on every continent and you can find ASC certified products in dozens of countries. If you buy one, you will be rewarding a producer that is treating its workers and neighbours fairly, and playing a small part in promoting the principles that we celebrate every February 20.

Read more about ASC’s social and environmental requirements on our Farm Standards page

Published on
Thursday, 20 February 2020
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