Proactive or reactive: How do we want the companies we buy our seafood from to act?
Attention to seafood, both wild catch and aquaculture, is growing as the social, environmental and economic issues are becoming more apparent in seafood supply chains. Such issues are visible though habitat loss, pollution, human rights violations and coastal community degradation.
Whilst nearly all major issues occur within the first two tiers of the value chain (on boats, at the pond or tank, and within the processing stages), consumers, NGOs and other green groups often look towards those further down the line for answers. Acting as a link between the oceans and consumers, retailers and hotels have the authority over brand and species selection; the ability to determine which suppliers to source from; and can provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions.
In Asia, both of these sectors are growing rapidly. The hotel industry is expected to continue on an upward trend of 4.1 percent per year in Asia.1 Similarly, the amount of foreign investment in retail is increasing– brands such as Carrefour (France), Metro (Germany) and Wal-Mart (U.S.), can now be found around in Vietnam, China, Thailand and Malaysia. As these industries continue to grow in the coming years, so too will their influence and power.
With this in mind, CSR Asia has launched a new “Briefing Report on Seafood for ASEAN Retailers and Hotel Groups”, which aims to shed light on the concept of sustainable seafood in the ASEAN region. The report discusses seafood industry related risks, makes the business case to improve the inclusion of smallholders and women in procurement strategies, and reviews the state of corporate disclosure on seafood from hotels and retailers. It also highlights five companies who are demonstrating leadership in their industries, and offers a series of private sector oriented recommendations that encourage a holistic approach to seafood procurement to the benefit of businesses, communities and the environment.
Missing information on important social issues
A key takeaway from the report is that communicating with consumers on what strategies, policies and practices are in place helps to demonstrate commitment and attention paid to sustainable seafood sourcing. Many times, this communication is done through annual and sustainability reports. When reviewing these public disclosures, our research found that within the ten hotels and ten retailers benchmarked, the majority share environmental data within their seafood supply chain. Yet, few are communicating the data on social issues.
The report also points out that disclosing data on social issues, however, is just as important. What cannot be ignored in the region is the relevance of small-scale producers. Of the 158 million working globally in the seafood sector, 90 percent are small-scale operators.2 For example, in the Philippines, the ratio of those working in small-scale operations compared to commercial is 16:1.3 Looking at the current state of disclosure of policies related to smallholder inclusion, though hotels were more likely to communicate on this topic, only 20 percent of retailers shared any information on policies related to smallholder inclusion.
This is of particular importance as small-scale producers account for more than half of all fish produced globally.4
Though there is still much to be done, there are a few examples of companies taking the lead in responsible sourcing by integrating policies, plans and targets that actively strive to improve procurement practices and drive the industry towards increased transparency. These include Hyatt, Hilton, Tesco and Aeon – all of which openly communicate their performance on seafood sourcing. Hilton, for example, employs a strong commitment to seafood sustainability, and in 2016, a series of targets were announced, which follows a Buy from the Best, Invest in the Rest motto:
- Buy from the Best: Purchase at least 25 percent of global seafood volume for owned, managed and leased properties from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)-certified fisheries and farms
- Invest in the Rest: Supply the remaining volume from sources working towards certification and sustainable improvement, following “green” seafood species on WWF seafood guides, and/or procuring tuna products from International Seafood Sustainability Foundation participating companies
Aside from these customer-facing companies, there is also notable influence coming from within the value chain. Thai Union is one of the largest tuna processors in the world. By 2020, it is their goal to source at least 75 percent of tuna from MSC-certified fisheries or from fishery improvement projects (FIPs). On top of this, the company is making strides in addressing labour issues by establishing partnerships with organisations such as Issara Institute, Labour Rights Promotion Network, and setting policies such as Zero Recruitment Fee Policy. Greenpeace has applauded their leadership, as it is actions like this that will pressure others to show similar levels of ambition and drive needed change throughout the industry.
How responsible sourcing can bring benefits to business:
Aside from minimising environmental and socio-economic harm, there are tangible benefits to consumer-facing businesses who increase the sustainability of their seafood, such as:
Reputational lens: Human rights organisations and other NGOs are known to publicly out retailers who sell seafood processed in factories with substandard working conditions. For example, Greenpeace has developed a ranking of American grocery stores on their Grocery Store Scorecard, to help consumers make better seafood purchasing choices. Addressing human rights and other sustainability issues in the supply chain helps to avoid potential reputational damage to the company.
Long term security lens: If fish are pulled faster from the sea than they can be replenished, or if the environment is damaged in the process, it is possible that these stocks will be completely depleted.
Consumer demand lens: With growing middle class and consumer awareness, shoppers have begun to drive demand for certified sustainable seafood, which currently accounts for 14 percent of the global seafood market – up from 0.5 percent in 2003.5 This pace of growth is ten times faster than the market for conventionally-sourced seafood, presenting both leadership and commercial opportunities.
Employee engagement: A literature review published in Research in Hospitality Management found that employees who perceive their organisation’s endeavors as being positive and meaningful will be more engaged. It also improves the ability to recruit and retain highly talented candidates.
The “Briefing report on seafood for ASEAN retailers and hotel groups” can be found on CSR Asia’s publication portal or by clicking the cover image to the right.
1. Asia Pacific hotel pipeline for March 2017 – Accom News
5. State of Sustainability Initiatives Review: Standards and the blue economy - International Institute for Sustainable Development