SWSS: Social responsibility tool launched to determine risk in seafood supply

Seafish, Sustainable Fisheries Partnerships and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program have jointly launched an assessment tool to gauge the social risk level of global fisheries, announced publicly February 2 at the SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Malta.

As high-profile media reports have raised awareness of slavery, child labor and other forms of mistreatment of workers in the global fishing industry, seafood buyers and others involved in the global industry have sought out information to see if and how their supply chain might be tainted. Similar to the Seafood Watch program, which provides recommendations and information on the environmental sustainability of seafood, the new tool will collate information to create a score rating the likelihood and severity of human and labor rights abuses, categorized by country and species type.

“We want this to be the definitive, evidenced-based guide used to identify and inform the public of social issues in fisheries around the world,” said Tom Pickerell, the technical director at Seafish, a government-aligned organization in the United Kingdom promoting seafood sustainability.

The tool was requested by members of the U.K. seafood industry, Pickerell said, though he hopes and expects it to find a broader audience, including individual consumers. While still under development, it will likely feature scores in low, medium and high categories of social risk of the “at sea” part of the supply chain, looking solely at wild-caught species.

“With reports of forced labor appearing more frequently in the fishing industries in some parts of the world, social responsibility is becoming more and more of a critical issue when assessing sustainable fishing practices,” SFP system division director Braddock Spear said.

To start, the tool will uses data from 11 sources, including the U.S. Department of State Trafficking-in-Persons Report, the U.S. Labor Department, the U.N. International Labour Organization, local labor rights reports and reporting from the media, according to Sustainability Incubator founder Katrina Nakamura, who has served as a consultant on the project along with partner Lori Bishop.

“We found that, in fact, there’s plenty of data from the human rights sphere – sufficient enough to accurately score fisheries worldwide,” Nakamura said. “Our methods are evidenced-based and we will have links available to all the reports we cite, so that those interested can drill down into further detail to see what’s driving every score. For those fisheries with a lack of evidence, that will equal high risk in our ratings, as we don’t want to penalize countries that have put lots of data out there.”

Other organizations besides those involved in creating the tool can also contribute data to the project, Nakamura said.

“If they go to the same level of rigor as we are with the data, they could add to the database themselves,” she said. “The vision of success is that it becomes a collaborative effort, where everyone is using this tool and qualified groups are contributing to it.”


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