Social change focus of new seafood supply chain initiative

Published on
April 7, 2016

Momentum is building behind a new initiative seeking to embed social development and environmental guidelines into seafood supply chains.

The movement broke into the open in September 2015 with the United Nations Development Programme/Oxfam/Sustainable Fisheries Partnership joint conference in Annapolis, Md., U.S.A.

Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the conference was the first global initiative to explore ways in which the seafood industry is engaged in social development. The conference investigated how the seafood industry and other stakeholders are currently engaged in the fishing and fish farming social development arena; questioned whether stakeholders wanted to improve or increase their level of engagement; looked the principal barriers to change and the actions required to overcome them; and defined what tools and innovations are available to mobilize the seafood supply chain to support the development goals of fishing and fish farming communities.

Delegates heard that the industry is a critical source of livelihood for 150 million people worldwide and a source of income for up to 820 million workers and their families, the majority in developing and emerging countries. They heard about organizations such as the Global Environment Facility, which is working with partners including World Wide Fund for Nature, UNDP, World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to foster socio-economic stability in fishing-dependent areas and to empower communities by giving them a voice in decision-making.

Several groups at the conference mentioned the media as a key tool to help move the social development agenda forward, not just through negative portrayals of stories about IUU, slave labor and other abuses, but also through positive articles about greater local food security and the benefits that are being brought to communities through improvements in fisheries and aquaculture, together with the consequent “guilt-free” products available for consumers.

Also on the agenda was a discussion of the newly developed “Voluntary Guidelines for Small Scale Fisheries,” developed by FAO in collaboration with organizations including the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers. The guidelines are designed to bring together social development and responsible fisheries, grounded in human rights principles.

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Chief Executive Jim Cannon argued that communication is one of the key tools to increase social and environmental sustainability in seafood.

“Some developing countries have made considerable investment in fisheries and aquaculture management and are doing better in terms of the resource, access [and] conflict resolution,” Cannon said. “For those who have not yet embraced this way of thinking, we need to talk to their governments to help them understand that well-managed fisheries and aquaculture are an effective way to provide jobs, keep politicians in office and provide food security for the population, as well as earning revenue from exports. We need them to embrace monitoring, compliance, governance and IUU, and to be open and transparent about their industries.

For seafood partners in the Western world, Cannon said, ”There is a key role in applying pressure to start that ball rolling.”

The majority of delegates at the conference cited their engagement in partnerships that redirect wild fisheries and aquaculture towards sustainable and responsible management practices as the most effective means by which they are involved in the social development arena. Many stakeholders expressed a willingness to increase their level of engagement with social development, but cited lack of time, dedicated personnel and funds as restricting factors. However, several said they were willing to explore ways to get more involved, perhaps through greater collaboration with others or by seeking out economies of scale.

To ensure compliance with retail and food service company policies, many companies now rely on platforms such as Sedex, a nonprofit organization set up to share ethical supply chain data and drive improvements in responsible business practices in global supply chains.

Morrisons supermarket, the U.K.’s fourth largest food retailer, has embedded social and environmental impacts within its seafood purchasing policy since 2012, and is at the forefront of social developments in the supply chain.

Morrisons and other representatives of seafood retail sales at the conference discussed the power of using supply-chain leverage to demand improvements on IUU and traceability, forced labor and human trafficking. By the end of the conference, several other stakeholders pledged to increase their efforts in this arena.

According to Huw Thomas, fisheries and aquaculture manager for Morrisons, social issues and social development should be a prerequisite for supply to any retailer.

“Supply chains are finally getting better connected such as through this conference, and it is clear that we all want the same thing, so I hope that there is an opportunity to do greater things together in the future,” he said.

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