International Labour Organization and Monterey Bay Aquarium collaborate on joint research on the role of intermediaries in Asian seafood supply chains

Intermediaries, or middlemen as they are also known, play a key role in seafood supply chains in Southeast Asia and other regions worldwide. Intermediaries are an indispensable link between small-scale fishers and farmers and seafood processors, buying seafood from small producers and ensuring that it is brought to processing facilities in a timely manner. They also support small-scale fishers and farmers by providing supplies, inputs, credit and business services that are otherwise unavailable.

The role of intermediaries—particularly their ability to support sustainable environmental practices, livelihoods and decent working conditions—has not been well researched. Limited anecdotal evidence suggests that intermediaries can sometimes lead small scale fishers and farmers into debt cycles, which impacts livelihoods and the environment. This underscores the need to better understand drivers and incentives within this part of the supply chain.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, through its Southeast Asia Fisheries and Aquaculture Initiative, and the ILO SEA Fisheries Project have partnered to conduct a study on the role of intermediaries in seafood supply chains in Indonesia and Vietnam. Marine Change, a Bali-based marine advisory service, will conduct the study.

The study will investigate the role that intermediaries play in shaping the working and living conditions of Southeast Asia’s small-scale commercial crab fishers and aquaculture shrimp farmers, who support global seafood supply chains. The aim is to provide insights on how intermediaries may help or hinder sustainable seafood production in the region. In addition, the study will identify the role of intermediaries on livelihoods in these coastal communities, including best practices to ensure the prevention of human trafficking and promote alternative options. This study will increase the knowledge base around complex and interlinked issues—environmental sustainability, livelihoods, economic viability, migrant working conditions and human trafficking—to inform improvements within global supply chains and communities in Southeast Asia.

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