Examining the value of corporate social responsibility in seafood
It’s not a term that Kent Greenfield, professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, prefers to use often – ‘corporate social responsibility’ can be rather off-putting and confusing to people, after all. However, the concept relayed in the term – that modern businesses have a responsibility to their operations, stakeholders and shareholders to maintain awareness at all levels – is one of consequence.
This is fascinatingly and especially so for seafood, according to Greenfield, the keynote speaker for the 2016 Seafood Expo North America (SENA) event being held in Boston this week from 6 to 8 March. As a poster industry for globalization, how seafood mitigates and mines its way through issues of environment, consumer safety and health, human and worker rights, etc., has a particularly salient effect, notes Greenfield.
Seafood certainly isn’t alone in this quest to stay on top of the enterprise and ethical woes riddling the global corporate landscape these days, nor can it be if the industry wishes to succeed. Collaboration is important when dealing with issues of ‘corporate social responsibility.’
“One thing is clear – the problems that are arising increasingly in the seafood industry around the world are beyond the capacity of any one person, any one industry even, to solve. They’re systemic, they’re pervasive,” Greenfield told SeafoodSource. “This is an industry that has a lot of particular and difficult challenges. So it’s going to take a lot of collective effort and a lot of collective attention to make progress.”
A truly wealthy business in seafood cannot be judged based solely on profitable quarterly reports and a strong bottom line – the most prosperous seafood companies acknowledge all the people standing along its supply chain, and consider far more than the environment in their sustainability efforts.
“I believe that the most important thing for a business is to create wealth for its stakeholders – not just its shareholders, but its employees, its consumers, its investors. The purpose of a business is to make money, but we have to make money in a way that is sustainable, not only environmentally, but socially and politically. That means we can’t be engaging in things that will keep a CEO up at night – you don’t want to be the main defendant in a human rights lawsuit, you don’t want to be on ’60 Minutes’ as being the employer that is enslaving thousands of shrimpers in Thailand,” said Greenfield.
The challenging economics facing the industry put seafood in an interesting position with respect to corporate social responsibility.
“Demand for fish products is going up…and the environmental resources needed to satisfy that demand is shrinking, so there’s going to be more and more pressure to cut corners,” explained Greenfield. The fact that so much of seafood business is conducted “outside of the view of regulators” puts even more of the onus on businesses within the sector to commit to awareness and enact positive change.
“You get boats out on the high seas fishing and shrimping and what have you, and they’re almost beyond the regulation of any jurisdiction,” Greenfield said. “So a lot of the pressure to get better in terms of worries about human trafficking, worries about traceability, worries about environmental degradation…the solutions are going to have to come from the industry first and foremost, I think, rather than from government.”
If the industry is to meet these pressures head-on, the rewards will be widely felt, concluded Greenfield: “If the seafood industry decides to be proactive, decides to use its power and position to start dealing with these issues it could really put itself on the leading edge of a lot of these things in ways that would really enrich the benefit of hundreds of millions of people.”
Greenfield will be speaking at the “2016 Keynote: Success, Failure and Corporate Social Responsibility” today, 6 March, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Boston Convention and Exposition Center in Room 153 A/B.