The UN Oceans Conference – Who’s Oceans Conference?
On 5-9 June 2017, the Governments of Fiji and Sweden co-hosted the high-level UN Oceans Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The aim was to support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
Almost regardless of where we look, the outcomes are presented as a great success, and if you dare to question this you better be prepared to confront hegemony. So let’s start preparing.
Already in advance of the conference, the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers (WFF) explained the lack of democratic involvement in the process of developing the SDGs, and concluded that “the process of developing the SDGs have, at best, left the global fisher movements [WFFP and WFF]… at the fringe of participation, while providing influential space for the corporate sector and large NGOs to inform the goals throughout the process”(More on the statement in Box 3). It is therefore not a surprise that a clear commitment to human rights – when looking at SDG14 – is notably absent, whereas the emphasis on the need for more natural science, marine technology, macro-economic development, and Marine Protected Areas is prominent.
So what kind of ‘game changer’ – as expressed by the UN chief of Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo – was this conference? Was it about a fundamental change in the way the political and economic elites govern and control oceans resources? Or was it an opportunity to change gear and do more of the same but with accelerated determination?
By looking at the two main and official outcomes of the conference – the Call for Action and the 1372 Voluntary Committments— we get very close the answer.
The call itself is made up of a list of 22 specific calls of which one addresses small-scale fisheries specifically: “(o) Strengthen capacity building and technical assistance provided to small-scale and artisanal fishers in developing countries, to enable and enhance their access to marine resources and markets…” There is, however, no indication on how to get there and the choice of words makes this call open for any interpretation. As explained elsewhere by the WFFP, this is an open door for privatisation of fisheries and dispossession of small-scale fishing communities. In addition, this specific call is only for developing countries; this is deeply problematic considering small-scale fishing communities are confronted with the same threats all over the world. The Call for Action will be tabled for endorsement at the seventy first session of the UN General Assembly.
Of the no-less-than 1372 Voluntary Commitments made predominantly by governments, corporations and international conservation organisations, 240 are claimed to target SDG14b: “Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets”. While these commitments might in fact target 14b, it is again important to look at how? It is noteworthy that only a handful of these addresses the International Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries, the by far most comprehensive international instrument on small-scale fisheries endorsed by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation in 2014.
Taking a look at the webcastings and official report of the conference brings us even closer to the answer. The emphasis on Marine Protected Areas, Blue Economy and Marine Spatial Planning — to mention a few key themes – is pronounced, whereas the lack of emphasis on the SSF Guidelines and a Human Rights Based approach to small-scale fisheries is the exact opposite. To some this might seem shocking; to others it is what could be expected. But what we can conclude is that Heads of State and Government and High Level Representatives have agreed to yet another Call for Action and opened the door far and wide for non-stake actors to inform and provide funding for the Voluntary Commitments aimed at implementing SDG14.
So maybe Wu Hongbo is absolutely correct when he said the conference would be a ‘game changer’. The implementation process of SDG14 – through a vague call for action and voluntary commitments – is handed over to powerful non-state actors with enough capital and human resources. This handing over of sovereignty from the United Nations bodies to the transnational corporations started close to 20 years ago, but the SDG on Oceans opens up a new chapter for unprecedented corporate capture of oceans governance.
For this reason, WFF and WFFP issued a “Statement on the SDGs and the UN’s Ocean Conference” to expose this biased scenario that populated the Conference. Below you can read what are the way ahead in their struggles!
Implementation of the international small-scale fisheries guidelines
With the adoption of the Small-Scale Fisheries Guidelines (hereafter SSF Guidelines) by the Committee on Fisheries of the FAO, the importance and the contribution of small-scale fishers to livelihoods and food security, especially amongst some of the world’s poorest and remote communities world-wide, have been acknowledged for the first time. Based on the international human rights standards, the SSF Guidelines are global in scope, holistic in its coverage, and apply to small-scale fisheries in all contexts, with a specific focus on the needs of small-scale fishing communities in developing countries.
Not only have small scale fishers themselves contributed to the drafting and the negotiation process of the Guidelines, they are currently playing a key role in spearheading the awareness-raising and implementation of the SSF Guidelines. During the last 16 months, the fisher folks belonging to the two international forums – World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF) and World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) with the support of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), Crocevia Centro Internazionale and Transnational Institute (TNI) organized 8 national level workshops and 3 sub-regional level workshops on the SSF Guidelines and their implementation. One of the key aspects was to raise awareness amongst organizations of small-scale fishers, fish workers and their communities through actions at local, national and sub-regional levels and to build their capacities to use the SSF Guidelines in pilot countries. Similarly, the Fisheries Working Group of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) has geared toward making the SSF Guidelines a vibrant tool for the small-scale fishers. The SSF Guidelines have been summarized, simplified, and translated into several languages such as Khmer, Vietnamese Laotian, Urdu, Sindhi and Kiswahili (Swahili). Many audio-visual materials and infographics have also been produced. Furthermore, in order to highlight the importance of gender in the sector, ICSF was commissioned to develop a Gender Implementation Guide which involved the participation of the civil society and social movements.
The SSF Guidelines represent a real milestone for millions of women and men fishers who are working and depend on the small-scale fisheries sector. Not only Civil Society Organisations, but Governments should also implement the SSF Guidelines and contribute toward progressive realization of the right to adequate food. One positive example is Tanzania. Acknowledging the importance of the sector, Government of Tanzania has recently pledged to use the SSF Guidelines as a tool to fight hunger and eradicate poverty and committed to include the SSF Guidelines within the national regulatory framework.
WFF and WFFP statement on the SDGS and the UN’s Ocean Conference
4 June 2017, this is an excerpt of the WFF and WFFP statement. Full document here.
” […]Our solution:
We pledge our support to the United Nations that is firmly rooted in the values that form the basis of the UN Charter: peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity. To uphold these values, each country should draw more consistently from parliaments, sub-national governments, civil society as well as the executive branch of government in democratic country-led governance on which the UN is founded. The International Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries in the context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF guidelines15) were endorsed by the Committee on Fisheries of the FAO in 2014. These SSF guidelines are the result of a bottom-up participatory development process facilitated by the FAO and involving more than 4000 representatives of governments, small-scale fishing communities, WFF and WFFP, and other actors from more than 120 countries globally. Their development resembles a legitimate, democratic country-led process, and the guidelines themselves build on the core UN principles of justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity and international human rights standards and principles. We express our recognition and appreciation of the stewardship of the FAO in the process of developing the SSF Guidelines.
At its 32nd session in July 2016, the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) of the FAO unanimously adopted the Global Strategic Framework (GSF) to facilitate the implementation of the SSF guidelines. The GSF aims at facilitating interaction between governments and civil society to support the implementation of the SSF Guidelines at all levels, and to promote a common vision and implementation approach, which is based on the principles of the SSF Guidelines themselves. We remain committed towards working with FAO on the further development of the GSF in order to advance the key principles of the SSF guidelines, with emphasis on the human rights based approach to small-scale fisheries; the recognition and protection of tenure rights of small-scale fishing communities; the rights of smallscale fishing communities to maintain control and ownership of the value chain, including marketing at local and regional levels; and promoting the full and effective participation of small-scale fisheries actors in the SSF guidelines implementation, in particular smallscale fishing communities including women, youth and Indigenous Peoples.
We, the representatives of over 20 million fisher peoples globally, will continue our constructive cooperation with national governments and the FAO in pursuit of the implementation of the SSF Guidelines and the further development of the GSF. We call upon the UN member states to work with us to ensure the progressive realization of our right to adequate food and related rights, and the protection of the natural environment. This can all be achieved through the development of the GSF and the implementation of the SSF guidelines.”