New RISE website helps seafood companies “turn concern into action on labor rights”

Sustainable seafood consultancy and non-profit FishWise launched the Roadmap for Improving Seafood Ethics (RISE) website during Seafood Expo North America 2019, with the goal of creating a resource to streamline guidance and actionable steps seafood companies can take to understand the labor conditions throughout their supply chains.

The platform, which was developed in partnership with the seafood industry and leading conservation and human rights experts, also aids companies in making improvements to protect workers and to mitigate their own regulatory and reputational risks, according to FishWise. 

“Seafood companies understand that their success depends on the well-being of the people who catch, raise, process, and transport the fish they sell, and they want to do the right thing,” Aurora Alifano, director of the social responsibility division at FishWise, said in a press release. “RISE offers the help many need to turn concern into action on labor rights.”

Conversations with seafood industry leaders revealed the high-priority status of labor rights and social issues for many companies, however, “capacity constraints and an abundance of information served as obstacles to getting started,” FishWise said. 

“FishWise has worked on social issues in seafood for many years, even prior to revelations of forced labor in shrimp supply chains,” FishWise CEO Tobias Aguirre told SeafoodSource. “So, we pulled together and shared relevant information, allowing seafood companies and NGOs to better understand the issues. In 2017, we heard from companies that this was a hot-button issue, there were too many resources, they felt paralyzed, and didn’t know where to start. Last year, we set out to solve that problem by building RISE.”

Over the course of several years, industry, human rights, labor, and human trafficking experts collaborated to address constraints companies were facing when establishing social responsibility standards, a melding of the minds that resulted in the creation of RISE, which helps businesses to:

  1. Evaluate their supply chain risks
  2. Understand and improve labor practices 
  3. Engage workers and make improvements that matter 
  4. Communicate about their policies, expectations, and progress.

For industry players like Tri Marine Group and Stavis Seafoods, ensuring worker and community welfare are high priorities, but they have found it difficult to implement and track improvement goals, Richard Stavis, the chief sustainability officer for Stavis Seafoods, explained. 

“Social responsibility – keeping people safe, valuing their contribution, and preserving their dignity sounds simple, but it’s incredibly complex,” Stavis said. “Even with the best of intentions, it’s hard for companies to focus and organize their efforts to improve people’s lives. It’s even harder to track company progress to an improvement goal. As an invaluably rich and comprehensive resource that gives overview, guidance, and resources, we hope RISE allows more companies to set a path to improvement and follow it.”

“Worker protections have been a Tri Marine priority for some time and we know that taking action is challenging and important,” added Matt Owens, the director of environmental policy and social responsibility at Tri Marine Group. “RISE offers companies an opportunity to do the right thing and address potential problems that could put their businesses at risk.”

Prioritizing labor rights and other social issues is also a necessary practice for non-governmental organizations working with industry to improve environmental sustainability, FishWise noted. For example, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, which brings more than 40 global sustainability NGOs together to address shared challenges, updated its Common Vision for Sustainable Seafood in 2018 to prioritize social issues. Founding members of the Alliance – such as FishWise, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, and other NGOs – were prime contributors to the RISE initiative.

“Seafood Watch ratings help seafood businesses improve environmental sustainability in their supply chains. RISE helps companies implement practices that protect workers and their businesses. By using Seafood Watch and RISE together, businesses can get the whole picture and make real improvements to sustainability and social responsibility,” said Ryan Bigelow, Seafood Watch’s senior program manager.

“RISE is for the seafood industry – anyone can access and use it to implement practices that protect workers,” added Bigelow. “It’s not a certification, but it’s really important for NGOs too, including seafood certification and ratings bodies, because the businesses we work with are making social issues a priority. By using Seafood Watch and RISE together, for example, businesses can get the whole picture and make real improvements to sustainability and social responsibility.”

A free online platform, RISE “consolidates supportive resources and guidance developed by the world’s leading human rights and labor advocates,” and can be used by seafood companies independently, according to FishWise. The project’s short-term goal is to reach seafood companies immediately and effectively, with long-term plans of building a network of industry pioneers to accelerate learning, FishWise's Alifano said. 

“We want to offer value for seafood companies right away,” Alifano said. “That’s why RISE offers a clear path, informed by recommendations, tools, and connections to labor experts. Long-term, we hope to build a community that works together, so that companies can learn from each other and accelerate progress. Ultimately, ocean conservation efforts can, and should, support people and communities to achieve the greatest possible impact.”

At its inception, RISE is also considered to be a referral hub providing connections to experts who can provide individualized guidance and support, added Mark Taylor, director of strategy and global partnerships at the Issara Institute

“Ethical supply chain management means companies should consider the human rights and labor conditions in their supply chain. Effectively engaging workers requires soliciting their input, ensuring protections for those who speak, and establishing channels for remediation,” Taylor said. “RISE offers businesses an accessible step-by-step process, supportive resources, and connections to expert advice, so they can take proactive steps.”

Grant funding support from Walmart Foundation helped fuel the development of RISE. The foundation sees the investment as an exciting step forward in promoting social responsibility, it said. 

“The RISE roadmap and toolkit is an exciting step forward in promoting social responsibility in the seafood industry by increasing transparency of information, sharing practical examples of progress and providing clear options for industry and NGOs working to improve conditions for seafood workers,” Walmart Foundation Senior Director Karrie Denniston said. “We are proud to support FishWise, [which] has taken a leadership role in integrating and advancing research, learnings, and collaboration to create a better seafood sourcing industry.”


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