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MSC Seeking Stakeholder Input on Enhanced Requirements for Labor Practices

Image credit: Verité

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced today it will be consulting stakeholders on a number of options aimed at providing the market with greater assurance that MSC-certified fisheries and supply chain companies meet internationally accepted norms for labor practices.

“The MSC Board recognizes the increasing importance placed on social issues when considering sustainability,” said Werner Kiene, chairman of the Board. “As a result the MSC Board has resolved to enhance the MSC sustainability certification scheme for wild fisheries by introducing a risk-based approach that assures stakeholders that labor practices throughout the MSC-certified supply chain, from ocean to consumer, meet internationally accepted norms.”

The MSC’s executive team will consult a wide range of stakeholders in developing proposals on how this can be achieved. Proposals will be open to solutions that might be provided by other standard-setting organizations and third parties.

This decision builds on the previous commitment made by the MSC Board in 2014 to prohibit organizations convicted of forced labor violations from achieving MSC certification.

Last July, both a New York Times investigation and the 2015 Global Trafficking in Persons Report highlighted rampant labor rights abuses throughout the seafood supply chain, particularly in Thailand – home to Thai Union, the world’s largest producer of canned tuna. Thai Union tuna is sold by brands including Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee in the U.S., and John West in the UK, along with supplying retailers such as Walmart and Costco.

In October, Greenpeace launched a global campaign against Thai Union - urging the company to amend its employment practices and standards – which continues today. Meanwhile in February, John West Australia enlisted the help of WWF and MSC to make the single biggest brand commitment to offer the world’s largest range of sustainably caught tuna, but the emphasis on that announcement was on eliminating overfishing – there was no mention of labor standards.

“There is deep and widespread concern about labor abuses within the global fishing industry and supply chain,” said MSC Chief Executive Rupert Howes. “Many organizations are grappling with how best to provide the market with cost-effective and viable tools to assure their products and supply chains are operating at internationally accepted norms and free from these shocking and unacceptable practices.

“Whilst several social standards have started to provide a solution for on-shore supply chain verification, there are numerous challenges to providing similar assurances for at-sea vessels,” he added. “However, some initiatives are already underway. The MSC intends to work with, and learn from, these other initiatives and our fishery and market partners, to understand their needs and expectations. Our aim is to develop a risk-based approach to requiring greater audit scrutiny where there is an identified need. It will not be easy. We encourage our partners to share their experiences with us in order to ensure that the new requirements are both effective and proportionate.” 

Phased introduction with three opportunities for stakeholder input

The MSC anticipates introducing any agreed new risk-based requirements in phases.

  • The initial phase is expected to require a declaration by MSC-certified fisheries that they are free from unacceptable labor practices and are able to supply evidence to support this claim. The MSC Board has asked for this requirement to be implemented by the end of 2018, following detailed consultation.
  • The MSC will also consult on a set of auditable social requirements or a declaration that will be implemented in the MSC Chain of Custody Standard in 2018. This may include recognition of solutions offered by other standard-setting organizations.
  • The next phase will be to consult on a set of auditable social requirements for labor practices in fisheries, including options to recognize solutions offered by other standard setting organizations, which will be implemented in 2020 when planned updates to the MSC Fisheries Standard are released.

Details of all stakeholder consultations can be found at improvements.msc.org. Anyone wishing to register an interest in these consultations should email standards@msc.org.

In May, the Partnership for Freedom launched a competition seeking technological solutions that help fight modern-day slavery in global supply chains of all kinds. The winner, called Labor Safe Digital Certificate, is a digital risk assessment tool that is expected to help seafood suppliers and major retailers better screen for risks of forced labor and address high-risk zones within their supply chains. 


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