Human Rights Guidance Tool for the Financial Sector
Human Rights Issues by Sector

Case Studies

July 2017, Thailand: The world's biggest shrimp farmer hosted a meeting with international supermarket chains and NGOs to address the problem of forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery practices in the supply chain. More...

May 2011, Ghana: Police working with Interpol carried out an operation in the Lake Volta area to rescue children who were believed to have been trafficked to the area to work in the fishing industry. More...

Agriculture and Fisheries

Agriculture includes:

  • Growing arable crops for human or animal consumption
  • Rearing livestock for meat, eggs and dairy products
  • Growing non-food crops (biomass, cotton, dyes, flowers and other industrial products)

Methods of agriculture include:

  • Monoculture
  • Plantations
  • Market gardening
  • Horticulture
  • Dairy farming
  • Animal husbandry

Fisheries include:

  • Capture fisheries, which harvest wild stock
  • Culture fisheries, which manage stock (including open ocean and offshore aquaculture)
  • Marine and freshwater fish processing

Key human rights related risks

  • The health and safety of workers and local communities - use of chemicals, machinery, the working environment (particularly deep sea fisheries), communicable diseases
  • The use of child labour (60% of child labour worldwide is in the agricultural sector, according to the ILO)
  • The use of forced labour
  • The impact on communities and their traditional livelihoods due to: monoculture; commercial/large scale fishing; over fishing; land use for cash crops; volume of water use; and the impact of effluent and wastes
  • Forced resettlement of communities, including indigenous peoples.

Examples of voluntary and trade initiatives

  • Fairtrade International: a global organisation working to secure a better deal for farmers and workers
  • The Better Cotton Initiative: a voluntary program to enable farmers to grow cotton in a way that is healthier for farming communities and the environment and more economical
  • ECLT Foundation: a multi-stakeholder initiative of trade unions, growers and companies, with the ILO as an advisor, working to eliminate child labour in the tobacco growing sector
  • UN-Indigenous peoples' Partnership (UNIPP): the first global UN inter-agency initiative to promote and protect the rights of indigenous peoples
  • The Sustainable Seafood Coalition is a cross-industry group in the UK tackling seafood sustainability using their influence as seafood businesses.

There are links to these initiatives in Resources.

Core operations

Health and Safety

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, agriculture is one of the three most hazardous work sectors in terms of work-related deaths and injuries.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • The use of hazardous chemicals, including pesticides and fertilisers, which may have both short and long-term risks to health
  • Exposure to pollutants from other industries
  • Use of farm machinery, including tractors, harvesters and other heavy machinery
  • Ergonomic issues (eg lifting heavy loads)
  • A dangerous working environment for fisheries due to climatic, tidal and water conditions
  • Exposure to communicable diseases from livestock (eg avian flu)
  • Insufficient information and training provision for workers on health and safety issues (or information not provided in languages appropriate to the workforce)

Child Labour

The ILO estimates that in some countries, one third of agricultural workers are children. Some are working on family run farms, helping out during busy periods after school. Others are working long hours in hazardous conditions and may not be with their families.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • Children working long hours are missing out on educational opportunities
  • Health and safety issues for children include the use of sharp tools, carrying loads too heavy for them and operating dangerous machinery
  • Children working in agriculture also risk exposure to toxic pesticides, dusts, diseases and insanitary conditions
  • In some parts of the agricultural and fisheries sector there is evidence of children being trafficked and forced to work.

Forced or Compulsory Labour

This includes any work or service that a person does under the threat of a penalty or where they have not entered voluntarily into an employment contract. The ILO believes that forced labour is present in many agricultural communities, in many regions of the world.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • The use of trafficked labour, where workers are not free to leave their employment and may be living in poor conditions, working very long hours and receiving low or no wages
  • This is also a particular concern in the fisheries sector.

Controls and mitigants

  • Compliance with local/national law is the starting point
  • Even if local/national law, standards or enforcement are lower than internationally accepted good practice, a company should apply the same consistent and effective management practices globally (on workforce, community health and safety, supplier screening, site safety and security)
  • Health and safety plan communicated to all workers in their own language and supported by robust governance procedures
  • Policies and procedures on employment and protection of young workers including prevention and mitigation measures in relation to child labour
  • Policies and procedures on prohibition of the use of forced labour
  • Understanding of the difference between subsistence and family agriculture and fishing (where children's participation contributes to the generation of household income) and more commercial operations (where child labour is more likely to be damaging to the child's health, welfare and education).

Supply Chain

Companies face human rights issues and risks in their supply chain, as purchasers of goods and services from other companies/sub-contractors which may be associated with poor practice or controversy.

Chemicals, including pesticides and fertilisers, are a major element of the supply chain for the agricultural sector. For further information on this topic, see Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals.


Health, Safety and Environment

People living in agricultural communities can be affected by agricultural operations. This may include: movement of agricultural vehicles, equipment and materials; and the impact of effluent and wastes on water supply and on land used for subsistence farming.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • Storage and transport of hazardous materials may pose risks for local communities if inadequate standards are applied. Damage to health or the local environment may occur through intentional or unintentional releases of hazardous materials. The movement of large scale machinery may pose a hazard to local people, especially children
  • There may be a risk of contamination of natural resources from waste disposal and pollution, and subsequent damage to health of local people eg contamination of the food chain or water supplies.

Impact on traditional livelihoods

Communities which have traditionally earned their living from small scale agriculture and fishing may be impacted by large scale, commercial enterprises.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • Monoculture, which reduces biodiversity and may have an impact on pollination of crops, traditional pest management and the local ecology
  • Commercial/large scale fishing, which reduces the availability of traditional catches for fishing communities
  • Cash crops being grown on land which would traditionally have been farmed for subsistence crops. Crops grown for export (including commodities and non-food products) may reduce the capacity of local people to be self-sufficient in food production
  • Volume of water used by commercial agriculture, potentially reducing the water table and using water that would have been available for both domestic use and subsistence/local agriculture
  • Volume of water used in fish processing, again using water otherwise available for domestic use and subsistence/local agriculture
  • Capture fisheries may increase the salinity of surrounding land making it unsuitable for agriculture
  • Damage, reduced access to or loss of cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of communities or indigenous groups.

Relocation of communities' rights

Communities may be displaced by the development of commercial agriculture.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

Title to land

  • The system of land ownership varies between countries. Local or indigenous groups may have their land titles ignored, there may be informal land ownership, or conflict on how land titles are administered (whether formal or informal). Companies should be aware of and respect the special status of local and indigenous populations under international law
  • Land ownership issues can be complex and require detailed research to identify the impacts and risks involved.

Voluntary relocation — consultation, consent and compensation

  • The company should investigate and consider alternatives to relocation (such as alternative sites for the development), particularly where replacement land is not appropriate or available
  • The company should take steps to ensure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities
  • Compensation provided to the community should be based on 'replacement value' and be sufficient to allow an adequate standard of living. This should be issued prior to relocation or before impacts of a development are experienced
  • Communities should be transferred to alternative land with housing which matches or exceeds the previous standard
  • Populations should be settled in a new location which allows for the continuation of their livelihood.

Forced relocation

  • Forced relocations (for example through the use of security forces) should not take place in connection with the development of company activities
  • A company should take steps to ensure that any relocation plan connected to company activities has been preceded by consultations with affected individuals and communities.

Controls and mitigants

  • A stakeholder engagement plan to ensure full and effective consultation with all stakeholders
  • A community awareness and education plan as part of health and safety measures
  • Emergency response plan to protect affected communities in the event of a major incident such as the release of hazardous materials. This would include the provision of emergency water and food supplies to local community if usual sources are contaminated
  • Clearly defined procedures on the use of indigenous peoples' knowledge and resources, including payment, benefit-sharing and other considerations
  • Policies and procedures to conserve finite resources, including water, energy and land, which take account of local community need for these resources now and in the future
  • Policies and procedures to ensure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities; ensuring that vulnerable groups are part of the consultation process and including a complaints mechanism for local communities
  • Policy and procedures on the relocation of communities, including measures around consultation and consent, prompt and adequate compensation and continuation of livelihoods
  • Policies and procedures on the conservation of cultural, historical or religious sites which form the basis of the identity of local and/or indigenous groups.

Society and Governments


The demand for biofuels is growing rapidly - they are a renewable resource which is cleaner than fossil fuel. Growing biofuels is very water intensive and also uses land which could be used to grow food.

Main issues for the agriculture and fisheries sector:

  • Food prices may be pushed up
  • Access to water and land may become harder for local communities

Controls and mitigants

  • Policies and procedures on sustainability and the use of scarce resources which take all human rights issues into account, and recognise conflicting needs in different parts of society
  • Policies and procedures to ensure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities; ensuring that vulnerable groups are part of the consultation process.

See also the broader UNEP FI Environmental and Social Risk Briefing and Resources.


December 2014     United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative