Addressing human rights at sea in Southeast Asia: A study of forced labour and slavery in the fishing industry



In 2023, the Australian Human Rights Institute will be funding Professor Klein’s research with a total grant of $7,363. 


The overarching aim of this project is to provide governments, policy advisors, scholars and NGOs with views on what can be done and what should be done to improve the law of the sea to protect the human rights of fishers working in the maritime areas of Southeast Asia. This aim encompasses the following goals:  

  1. To investigate the legal opportunities and obstacles from the perspective of the law of the sea in addressing the problem of forced labour and slavery in the Southeast Asian fishing industry  

  1. Foster research collaboration between law of the sea scholars at the Centre for International Law of the National University of Singapore and researchers in the Faculty of Law & Justice at UNSW Sydney  

  1. Support the policy and advocacy work of the UK-based NGO Human Rights at Sea.

The following legal aspects will be considered over the course of this project: 

  • Classifying the human rights abuses that occur in the fishing industry as violations of international law  

  • International institutional law challenges in addressing forced labour in the fishing industries of Southeast Asia 

  • Reconciling existing legal instruments, such as the Work in Fishing Convention, the Cape Town Agreement and RMFO initiatives as response to the IUU fishing  

  • Is there a collective interest or erga omnes obligations that attracts state responsibility in relation to the human rights abuses of fishers at sea? 

  • As the abusive treatment of fishers can be exacerbated through the practices of transhipment and the activities of fisheries-support vessels, what legal reforms of these aspects of the fishing industry could be considered? 

Research outputs will include workshops, symposium journal publications, blogs, and an ARC DP application. Our project aims to contribute to current international law studies on human rights at sea, increase awareness and advocacy tools and tighten the regulatory regimes bearing on this issue to reduce incidence of forced labour and slavery in the fishing industry.