UN Sustainable Development Goals influencing Japanese seafood buying

Japanese corporations – including the huge conglomerates such as Nissui, Maruha Nichiro, and Mitsubishi – have been heavily influenced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in 2015 “as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.”

Practically every major company in Japan has amended its corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports to include an accomplishment in each of the 17 categories if possible, including for SDG 14, “Life below Water,” which calls for the sustainable management and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as efforts to address the impacts of ocean acidification. This change has had an incrementally large effect on their decisions on seafood purchasing, investments, and corporate philanthropy.

Japan’s national government has pushed for policies aligned with SDG 14, including reducing coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density; Managing a proportion of the national exclusive economic zone (EEZ) using ecosystem-based approaches; Reducing the average marine acidity (pH) measured at representative sampling stations; Increasing the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels; Conserving at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas; Discontinuing fishery subsidies that may encourage Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; Increasing sustainable fisheries’ contribution to the gross domestic product of small island states; And ratifying and implementing portions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea pertaining to sustainable use of the oceans and their resources.

For Japan’s private companies though, any action that may contribute to ocean sustainability is usually sufficient to warrant displaying the blue fish SDG 14 symbol.

A showcase for these achievements in Japan is the annual Tokyo Seafood Sustainability Symposium (TSSS), put on by Seafood Legacy, Co., Ltd. and Nikkei ESG. Seafood Legacy is a Tokyo -based consultancy that forges connections between sustainable seafood programs and businesses. Nikkei ESG is a publication of the Nikkei newspaper group that focuses on environmental, social, and governance issues. Funding for the event is provided by the Walton Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Panasonic Corporation won the first Japan Sustainable Seafood Award in 2019 at TSSS for promoting sustainable seafood in its corporate cafeterias. The company first introduced Aquaculture Stewardship Council- and Marine Stewardship Council-certified food at its head office in Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture, in 2018. It subsequently expanded the program to its other offices. The goal was not only to provide a market for sustainable seafood at cafeterias, but to encourage Panasonic workers to choose certified seafood in their private shopping.

But the COVID-19 outbreak caused problems for the program in 2020. Kosuke Kino, manager of Panasonic’s groupwide brand strategy division, CSR, and citizenship department, said with the introduction of teleworking cafeteria use has declined to about 80 percent of its pre-pandemic totals at the company’s factories, and to about one-third at sites with many white-collar workers.

As the sustainable seafood items were only featured on corporate menus once per month, it has become less profitable for Panasonic’s suppliers and caterers to acquire the necessary chain of custody (CoC) certification and to stock items carrying certification. The CoC certification requires companies to undergo training and demonstrate that they can keep certified products separate from non-certified products. There is time and expense involved in the certification and associated record-keeping. Of the 48 Panasonic locations that were serving sustainable seafood, about half have temporarily suspended it, Kino said.

In order to expand its base of suppliers while making sustainable seafood more attractive for them to handle, Panasonic has been networking with seven other companies, including Denso, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, and Tamura Corporation to help them serve certified sustainable seafood in their cafeterias. Panasonic has shared its experience in setting up its own program, and the uptake of the initiative beyond its own corporate structure has made it easier for corporate caterers to stock certified seafood, Kino said. The company has also helped 11 catering companies to acquire CoC certification, in some cases utilizing a group certification process that cuts costs. However, Kino said it is not always easy to get competing caterers to work together, as they wish to guard their menus and recipes as trade secrets.

Kino said the company is now investigating the possibility of using sustainable seafood with longer shelf-life in the company’s emergency larders, used in case of disaster, such as Japan’s not-infrequent earthquakes. The foods, such as fish sausage, would be distributed to workers when they near their expiration. Another possibility is to offer sustainable seafood for sale at the company convenience store, or at special sales events – Toyota Motor Corp. is currently doing this, Kino said. These measures are relatively easy to implemement, as the sale of canned or processed products does not require the acquisition of CoC certification, he said.

Miki Yamaoka, who handles communications for Seafood Legacy, gave SeafoodSource some additional examples of corporate initiatives that have been driven by SDG 14 in Japan.

In procurement improvement, Japanese supermarket chains Aeon, JCCU [Japanese Consumers' Co‑operative Union], and Seiyu have been introducing and expanding their offerings of MSC-certified sustainable seafood.

In investments, The Norinchukin Bank, based in Tokyo, has built an environmental and social risk management (ESRM) framework to assess and manage environmental and social risks prior to making investment and financing decisions customers and projects. It also began handling sustainability-linked loans in May 2020.

And in operations, in December 2020, Japan’s Nissui, Maruha Nichiro, and Kyokuyo in Japan, joined a SeaBOS pledge that by the end of 2021, they will eliminate IUU fishing and forced, bonded, and child labor in their operations; extend their collaboration with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to solve the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear; combine to clean up plastic pollution from coasts and waterways; agree on a strategy for reducing impacts on endangered species and the use of antibiotics; and set CO2 emissions reduction goals and report on their approaches. SeaBOS is a collaboration between scientists and the world’s largest seafood companies in the wild-capture, aquaculture, and feed production sectors and its member companies represents about 10 percent of global seafood production.

Two companies shared the Japan Sustainable Seafood Award at TSSS2020 last year: Usufuku-Honten (based in Kesennuma), which acquired MSC certification for its Atlantic bluefin tuna catch; and Yokohama-based Japanese restaurant company Kijima, which has been changing its seafood to ASC- and MSC-certified fish while disclosing its progress on its website in a campaign it has titled the "Kijima Organic Challenge."

Photo courtesy of Panasonic


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