Fishers' livelihoods central to Fair Trade's seafood program

As social responsibility moves into a more central role in the seafood sustainability paradigm, many suppliers and distributors are stepping up to pledge allegiance to the cause, according to Oakland, California-based certifier Fair Trade USA.

Perhaps best known for its work with the coffee industry, Fair Trade USA has developed a leading market-based model for sustainable production, trade, and consumption, applicable to several industries, over its 20 years in operation. Whether it’s “berries and coconuts” or “sweatshirts and salmon,” Fair Trade-certified products all offer the same assurances in the 30 product sectors Fair Trade services, explained Adriana Sanchez, Fair Trade’s business development manager for seafood. 

“Regardless of the product, geography, or community, our goal is the same: to change how business works and, in turn, change the lives of farmers, workers, and fishermen around the world,” Sanchez told SeafoodSource.

There are nine Fair Trade-certified seafood supply chains so far, with several more in the pipeline, according to the certifier. Products with Fair Trade certification such as Indonesian yellowfin tuna, Mexican blue shrimp, Maldivian skipjack tuna, Alaskan salmon, and scallops from New England are offered by more than 20 North American retailers including Safeway, Hy-Vee, and Whole Foods Market.

Fair Trade’s sustainability programs focus foremost on livelihoods, an approach that has become particularly relevant for today’s seafood industry, which is currently undergoing an evolution in the way it conceptualizes sustainability, Sanchez said. 

“What I have seen is a shift in paradigm in which seafood sustainability is not just about healthy stocks, but also closely linked to fishers’ livelihoods,” she said.  “We know that forced labor and human trafficking have been found to co-occur with illegal fishing. Socially responsible seafood seeks to protect human rights, dignity, and access to resources, ensure equality and equitable opportunity to benefit, and improve food and livelihood security.”

Social responsibility assurances are increasingly being sought by seafood producers, which is why Fair Trade USA has recently seen “a rise in corporate commitments towards social responsibility,” Sanchez said. Companies are delivering on these commitments in a variety of ways, including through “certifications and audits” as well as through “the development of tools to facilitate vendor accountability such as Supplier Code of Conduct, requirements for worker contracts and fair recruitment practices, and purchasing agreements that require suppliers to respect fundamental labor rights,” she said.

Consumers are also investing more into socially responsible supply chains, desiring to “know how and where their fish was caught and who caught it,” Sanchez said, as well as if fishers have been treated and compensated fairly. 

“Consumers feel they can use their purchasing power to generate change on the water and in fishing communities around the world. It’s a very powerful message in today’s landscape, which is plagued by stories of human trafficking and slavery in the seafood industry,” Sanchez said.

Worker welfare is one of the driving forces behind Fair Trade’s seafood program, which seeks to give consumers a comprehensive, identifiable label they can trust, and suppliers a certificate that aligns with their overarching business ethics, Sanchez said.

“When consumers purchase a product with the Fair Trade-certified label, they know the fishermen and workers who produced it got a fair deal for their hard work. This means better prices and wages, safer working conditions, environmental protection, and additional Community Development Premiums to invest in much-needed projects like education, healthcare, and clean water,” she said.

When assessing whether or not a seafood supplier is socially responsible under its standard, Fair Trade USA begins by “looking at what measures are in place within the supply chain to ensure appropriate wages, safe working conditions, access to services like healthcare, gender equality, and that there’s no forced or child labor,” Sanchez said. The certifier also evaluates environmental indicators, examining resource management systems and variables.

All clients seeking certification under Fair Trade USA’s program – and those already certified – are required to undergo annual, third-party, in-person audits to verify their compliance with production and trade standards. Evidence to prove compliance includes documentation, in-person interviews, and visual confirmation by the auditor, according to Fair Trade USA. 

Fair Trade works predominantly with small- and medium-scale fisheries and fleets in Southeast Asia and Latin America, providing that segment of the industry with a unique certification alternative that places a premium on community development, Sanchez said. 

“Part of what makes Fair Trade unique is the guaranteed community development premium. A portion of every Fair Trade sale goes back to the producers who make, grow, and harvest the products we use and the food we eat. In the Seafood Program, 30 percent of the community development premium earned is invested in environmental programs. It can be used to help support Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) or address other issues affecting their communities (i.e. waste management, turtle protections, etc.).”  

While wild-catch fisheries are Fair Trade USA's central focus at present, the certifier is trialing its requirements at select fish farming sites, the result of a newly-established partnership with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). 

The ASC collaboration, announced 9 October, will see Fair Trade’s model of "responsible business and conscious consumption" implemented by certain ASC-certified fish farms. The pilot – being carried out in the framework of ASC’s new Improver Program – will allow the certifiers to determine if Fair Trade’s program, which enables sustainable livelihoods for fishermen around the world while empowering them to improve their communities via the Community Development Fund, can act as a ladder toward ASC certification.

Image courtesy of Fair Trade USA


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