Human rights groups criticize MSC’s new Chain of Custody Standard

Thirteen human rights and environmental groups have released a statement criticizing the effectiveness of the Marine Stewardship Council’s new Chain of Custody Standard. 

The 13 groups – including Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, Freedom Fund, the International Labor Rights Forum, and more – have criticized the program’s new standard, saying that the standards will not be effective enough to identify and protect seafood workers from labor rights violations and abuse. The groups, which are a part of the Thai Seafood Working Group, have a number of concerns about the standard. 

A key concern, according to the joint statement, is the classification of countries into “low-risk” and “high-risk” categories, with due diligence in certification required only in “high-risk” countries. 

“The way that MSC defines the criteria for risk will allow seafood operations that may have serious labor abuses – such as processing and shrimp-peeling facilities – to be certified without any labor due diligence simply because they are in countries classified as low risk," ILRF Executive Director Judy Gearhart said in a release. 

Another point of criticism is the process on-shore operators – like processing facilities – will need to undergo to obtain certification. The MSC standard is for companies to undergo one of three labor audits recognized by the organization: Amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative, SEDEX SMETA, or Social Accountability International’s SA8000.  

“The Thai Seafood Working Group has expressed our concern about the use of SA8000, Amfori, and SEDEX as the accepted programs. They have proven to be ineffective in other supply-chain industries, such as apparel, palm oil, and cocoa, in some cases with tragic results,” the joint statement said. “One such example is the case of Ali Enterprises, an SA8000-certified Pakistani apparel factory, in which over 250 workers died in a fire on 11 September, 2012. The SA8000 auditors had failed to detect and raise the issue of fire hazards and lack of emergency exits.”

The 13 groups are recommending that all seafood operations, regardless of country, be treaded to the same labor due diligence. In addition to that, they recommend that a form of complaint mechanism for workers be established. 

“While we understand that this was MSC’s first step in an effort to address labor abuse in seafood supply chains, we are deeply disappointed by the standard put forward,” the organizations said. “Indeed, a low-bar approach such as this one is a missed opportunity and a poor model for other sustainability programs seeking to address the rights and well-being of seafood workers.”

Photo courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation


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