Human rights, traceability can't fade from focus

Published on
February 10, 2017

FishWise hit the headlines this week as the seafood consultancy released two updated white papers aimed at improving sustainability and social responsibility in seafood supply chains.

The organization, which promotes the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems through environmentally responsible practices, hopes that the new papers will help conservation and human rights NGOs, seafood businesses and stakeholders, to improve human rights and traceability throughout the industry.

One paper, “Social Responsibility in the Global Seafood Industry,” identifies resources that businesses can utilize to plan and implement social responsibility protocols within their supply chains. It highlights a wealth of conventions, legislation, initiatives and key organizations that are working to improve industry practice, and outlines measures that seafood businesses can take to reduce the risk of human rights abuses throughout the supply chain.

This paper notes that seafood businesses are increasing their efforts around the globe to prevent human and labor rights abuses, ably assisted by a growing weight of government legislation. However, the issue remains stubbornly difficult to prevent, due to the global scale and complexity of seafood supply chains, ongoing IUU fishing, a failure to ensure transparency of operations and practices on fishing vessels and in processing plants, and a lack of enforcement of regulations.

It is estimated that globally, somewhere between 20 and 46 million people still work under coercive or
forced labor conditions. That statistic is included in the report from the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which shows the nature and extent of worker trafficking in the seafood industry, citing Myanmar, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam as the most likely source countries of trafficked workers.

Media interest in this ethical issue is increasing, with a growing number of reports and news items highlighting the challenges of slavery in the seafood industry. These serve to reinforce calls for action from government and industry.

NGOs working in the field of sustainable seafood are encouraged to engage with labor rights groups to help drive greater improvements in environmentally and socially responsible seafood.

Mariah Boyle, traceability division director at FishWise, believes that alliances and teamwork are key to making progress.

“Collaboration is critical because no one government, company or NGO has the influence to eliminate human rights abuses on their own,” she said. “It will take an organized and sustained effort across sectors to achieve meaningful improvements.”

Another key finding is that companies should address social responsibility challenges by mapping and analyzing their supply chains, communicating and tracking goals with suppliers, and reporting publicly on their progress to encourage and engage other stakeholders.

“There are many resources available, including international standards and guidelines, as well as a variety of NGOs, certifications and consultants, all of which can assist in improving supply chain practices,” Boyle said.

FishWise’s updated traceability white paper, “Advancing Traceability in the Seafood Industry,”
summarizes the seafood traceability landscape, including current challenges, provides a discussion on key international and regional governance, and outlines steps that businesses can take to improve the traceability of seafood within their supply chains. It concludes with information about some of the key conservation organizations, for-profit companies, certifications, and other players currently working to support the adoption of end-to-end, electronic, interoperable traceability in the North American market.

It finds that seafood supply chains are complex, with information historically closely guarded, which makes traceability difficult to maintain. However, improving traceability wold help to identify and mitigate risks such as food safety concerns, mislabeling and fraud, IUU fishing and human rights and labor abuses. It could also be used to track progress towards a company’s seafood sustainability commitment and help them communicate a story about their product.

Many challenges exist to achieving end-to-end, electronic, interoperable traceability throughout global seafood supply chains, including language and technological barriers, varying sizes and scales of supply chains, limited capacity and resources within companies, differing national-level traceability requirements and concerns over information sharing and confidentiality

According to FishWise, the need to improved alignment on key data elements (KDEs) is probably the most important area of focus in the coming years, as this will ensure that claims and data can be verified.

The paper suggests that investing resources into traceability improvements now will help companies
protect brand value, build consumer trust, identify areas of risk in supply chains, and demonstrate leadership in this growing field.

“It is an exciting time to be working on seafood traceability. Upated government requirements, novel efforts by individual companies, new NGO collaborations, and pre-competitive initiatives by private sector leaders, are all focusing on this critical foundation of seafood supply chains,” Boyle said. “By sharing examples and providing guidance, we hope that our white papers will empower more supply chains to make traceability improvements.”

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