MSC establishes new requirements to combat forced and child labor

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has announced new requirements designed to address concerns over the use of forced and child labor in the seafood industry.

Introduced as part of an update made to the MSC’s Chain of Custody Standard, the new rules require all MSC certificate-holders to undergo an audit of their labor practices and policies, with the exception of companies that show they are at lower risk of employing child or forced labor.

“Forced and child labor is an industry-wide issue with no quick or easy solution. The new measures are part of a series of updates to both the MSC Chain of Custody Standard and MSC Fisheries Standard to address forced labor in the seafood industry,” MSC said in a press release. “The new labor requirements are part of the wider changes to the MSC Chain of Custody Standard to improve clarity, accessibility, and integrity where necessary.”

The audit requirement will come into effect on 28 September, 2019, with companies given a 12-month grace period to implement a labor audit, according to MSC. The on-site audits now required by MSC must be carried out an independent third-party social auditor using of three labor audit programs recognized by the MSC: the Amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative audit; the Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA), or the SA8000 Certification from Social Accountability International. The MSC also said it planned to recognize other labor programs that gain acceptance from the Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI). 

The audits will be used to assess the level or exposure a company’s supply chain has to risk of labor violations during processing, packing, repacking, and manual loading or offloading of seafood, MSC said. Companies that fail to address labor violations identified in their audit within 30 days will have their MSC certificates suspended, the organization said. 

“Around the world, more than 150 million children and 25 million adults are involved in forced labor. We recognize the urgency in addressing forced and child labor violations and have put measures in place to tackle this issue in the supply chain for certified seafood,” MSC Head of Accessibility Yemi Oloruntuyi said. “This update to our supply chain requirements will provide seafood buyers and consumers with greater assurances that companies involved in processing and packing MSC and ASC certified seafood do not employ forced or child labor.”

Companies may be exempt from the auditing requirement if the country or countries they operate meet two of four exemptions permitted by MSC: considered “lower-risk” in the Social Accountability Accreditation Services’ ranking used in the Country Risk Assessment Process for SA8000 certification; maintains a low position on the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index; has ratified five or more United Nations conventions on forced or child labor, human trafficking, or seafood; or whether it appears on the U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods made with incidence of forced or child labor.

“These indicators are globally recognized, transparent, and commonly used in the seafood industry and were carefully selected through a multi-stakeholder consultation process,” MSC said in its release.

MSC said it revised its standards to incorporate measures to mitigate exposure to labor issues in response to “a commitment made in 2014 by the MSC Board to include a clear policy on forced labor within MSC certification requirements and a decision in 2016 to hold extensive stakeholder consultations on labor requirements within the MSC program.”

“This standard provides seafood buyers and consumers with confidence in the traceability and integrity of the supply chain for both MSC- and Aquaculture Stewardship Council-certified seafood,” it said.

In August 2018, MSC moved to require companies certified to its standard to submit a statement declaring they did not employ forced labor or child labor. Besides requiring the completion of a Certificate Holder Forced and Child Labour Policies, Practices, and Measures, MSC also moved to prohibit companies that had been successfully prosecuted for forced labor violations from being eligible to participate in the MSC program for two years after their conviction.

More than 300 fisheries in 34 countries are certified to the MSC’s Standard and more than 4,500 seafood companies and subcontractors in more than 45,000 sites in around 100 countries are currently certified to handle seafood for sale with the labels of the MSC or ASC, the organization said. These fisheries produce an estimated 12 million metric tons of seafood annually, representing 15 percent the world’s marine catch. More than 35,000 seafood products worldwide carry the MSC label. 


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