Measuring stewardship in the seafood sector

Anna Triponel

April 29, 2022
Our key takeaway: The seafood industry affects and depends on people: over a third of the world’s population rely on it as a source of nutrition and employment. The seafood industry also affects and depends on the planet: it relies on a healthy biosphere but is also linked to negative impacts on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Companies are key to delivering a sustainable and socially responsible seafood industry: this means significantly stepping up when to comes to conducting human rights due diligence and prioritising social responsibility. 

The World Benchmarking Alliance has published its “2021 Seafood Stewardship Index Insights Report” (April 2022), which assesses and ranks the seafood sector’s 30 most influential companies – encompassing companies active in wild catch, aquaculture, aquafeed production and processing – across four areas: governance and strategy, ecosystems, traceability and social responsibility. The index aims to be “an accountability tool and roadmap for the private sector” by also providing insights into leading ESG company practices. This second edition of the report (initially published in October 2021), and second iteration of the benchmark, “provides additional analysis and insights of companies’ efforts to contribute to various aspects of sustainable and responsible seafood including: social responsibility; environmental sustainability; traceability; illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; and governance.” 

  • Why seafood stewardship matters: The seafood industry affects and depends on both people – over a third of the world’s population rely on it as a source of nutrition and employment – and planet – it relies on a healthy biosphere but is linked to negative impacts on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. “The seafood industry’s activities are linked to a number of environmental and social impacts that jeopardise, not only its own economic sustainability, but the futures of millions of people.” And yet, “delivering a sustainable and socially responsible seafood industry cannot be achieved without companies at the forefront.” 
  • Some progress since 2019, but not enough for a path towards systemic change: Compared to its first iteration in 2019, which concluded that the sector was “not on track to support a transition to a sustainable seafood industry,” this second iteration shows “a growing number of company commitments and efforts, especially with regards to environmental sustainability and traceability”. Yet, action is lacking. On governance and strategy, 70% of companies having sustainability objectives but “only 30% have translated those into time-bound targets” and rarely for social responsibility objectives. Regarding ecosystems, companies have strengthened their commitments in relation to 2019 by “referring to specific standards and, in a few cases, adding timelines.” On traceability, companies must still step up to address illegal fishing which represents 20% of global catch, but some progress has been made: “in 2019 40% of companies disclosed specific commitments to traceability compared to 50% in 2021”. Finally, on social responsibility and human rights, companies are falling short. “The average score is around 15%” and “only half of the companies disclose a commitment to protect human rights”. Regarding human rights due diligence, only one company was identified as having implemented the first three steps of an HRDD process and “90% fail to demonstrate any of these steps.” Finally, general performance on social responsibility indicators is low. These relate to supporting local communities, child and forced labour, farmer and fisher productivity and resilience, working and living conditions on fishing vessels, respecting indigenous rights, gender commitments in the supply chain, health and safety of vulnerable groups and living wage. At the same time, 60% of the companies disclose information on how they engage with stakeholders and 43% demonstrated that they provide grievance mechanisms for workers.
  • What’s next in 2022 - A year of impact. “A year of research is followed by a year of impact.” In 2022, the World Benchmarking Alliance will disseminate the benchmark results and drive action. They will launch a Human Rights Due Diligence Community of Practice, a Traceability Community of Practice and the Seafood Investor Action Group. Companies in the seafood industry and investors – who are considered key leverage points to drive sustainability in the sector – can take advantage of these collaboration and engagement opportunities, where companies are invited to share their learnings and challenges. The methodology for the third iteration of the benchmark of 2023 will also be made public at the end of the year. 

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