Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative tackles human rights at sea

March 13, 2023, 4:44 p.m.

Founders of the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) met with students, faculty and other members of the Stanford community on Tuesday to share the progress of their ongoing partnership with Stanford to support sustainable fishing practices in Indonesia. The event, “Toward Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Oceans: A Discussion with the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative,” was held at Encina Hall and sponsored by the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS) and Center for Human Rights and International Justice

Fadilla Octaviani, the director of enforcement support and access to justice at IOJI, and Stephanie Juwana, the director of international engagement and policy reform at IOJI, spoke with Liz Selig, deputy director of COS, and David Cohen, faculty co-director of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, in a conversation moderated by Jessie Brunner, director of human trafficking research at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. 

According to its website, IOJI is a think tank and policy advocacy group focused on supporting sustainable and equitable ocean governance. Octaviani said that the organization’s main objectives are to support sustainable ocean governance; advocate for sustainable and equitable ocean policies; strengthen the relationship between government, academia and civil societies involved in ocean governance; and empower small-scale fisheries and marginalized people who depend on the ocean to survive in Indonesia.

“We need the ocean,” the IOJI slideshow read. According to Juwana, the ocean is the main source of protein for more than 60 percent of Indonesians, a source of livelihood for 5 million fishers, a solution to climate change, a system for disaster risk management and a primary means of national income. Juwana said the ocean-related challenges Indonesia faces include illegal fishing, human trafficking, drugs on fishing fleets, oil spills and plastic pollution.

According to Octaviani, IOJI focuses its efforts on human rights for Indonesians at sea. She said that 1.2 million Indonesians work as migrant crew members on foreign commercial vessels and fishing vessels, and IOJI uses research and policy proposals to assist the government in developing regulations to ensure more equitable and environmental ocean governance. 

“If you have followed some of the issues relating to human rights on vessels, it’s very sad,” Octaviani said. Octaviani shared a photo of an Indonesian migrant worker whom she said was disposed to the sea from a Chinese vessel without approval from their family when they died.

“Indonesian migrant fishers are very vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor, which is why the Center for Ocean Solutions, Center for Human Rights and IOJI made this project,” Octaviani added.

After Octaviani and Juwana presented their work at the IOJI, the COS and Center for Human Rights and International Justice speakers joined the conversation to share why the centers became involved with the IOJI.

“COS likes to say that we work from insight to impact and to do that you have to have the right partners,” said Selig. “One of the things that was really exciting about this project is that it allowed us to expand our horizons beyond the environmental sustainability work that we traditionally do into this space where environmental and social sustainability meet.”

The partnership between COS, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice and IOJI was prompted after a 2017 joint-research effort between COS and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), which identified contracts and payments as the most common source of labor abuse for the tuna supply chain. The centers worked with IOJI to tackle labor contracts and payments for Indonesian mariners, which is the mission of IOJI. 

The project’s goal is “to end modern slavery in its supply chains as part of its commitments in the Tuna Traceability Declaration,” said Natalie Longmire-Kulis ’22, one of the event organizers. The Tuna Traceability Declaration is a legally non-binding commitment to end overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) tuna fishing and create management plans to bring back fish stocks.

The event is part of Ocean Imaginaries, a new initiative under the Stanford Global Studies program which uses the ocean as a system to promote international interdisciplinary research. 

The Ocean Imaginaries program organizes exhibits, events and classes for Stanford to interact more with ongoing challenges in our oceans. The program is focusing on the Indian Ocean for the 2022-2023 academic year.

“Indonesia is unique in the ability of civil society organizations to interface with the government in ways that [have] a direct impact,” Cohen said. “IOJI is a prime example of that in how they have developed ongoing partnerships with critical government agencies.” 

“After nearly working together for 3 years, we finally are able to meet with everyone in person,” Octaviani said. “We hope that our presentation will provide everyone with a deeper knowledge of Indonesia and might inspire someone in pursuing a career in this field.”

Anna McNulty '24 is a climate writer at The Daily. Contact her at news 'at'

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