There are three distinct segments that exist in the wild fisheries supply chain:
- Production, including fishing vessels, traders and consolidators
- Initial processing (and mixing), where the strongest control points exist and traceability to origin can still be validated, warranting specific attention
- Manufacturing-to-retail, integrating existing initiatives or sourcing models
The fisheries supply chain is complex and vast, and currently includes fish caught through illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) - fishing conducted in violation of national laws or internationally agreed upon conservation efforts - or other illegal activities (forced labor, human trafficking) that take place at the point of production (at sea). Developing and implementing an effective global initiative to combat IUU and other human rights violations will be a massive undertaking. Such an initiative can be kept manageable and effective if it aligns separate, yet synergistic, efforts across these three separate segments of the supply chain.
I propose the following general outline of elements of a global initiative to address such illegal activities for each segment of the supply chain:
1) Production segment
We need establish standards and criteria that assure raw material was produced legally. We also need to focus on educating producers about what illegal activities they should avoid, why avoiding those practices is important (including possible market access to responsible brands), and how they can implement processes to avoid such illegal activities.
The initiative should identify a means of assessing and validating materials produced under legal conditions (government permits and licenses, export documentation, etc.).
Other external stakeholders, such as non-government organizations (NGOs) and specialized businesses, may be required to take some of the following actions: develop and implement chain of custody systems; conduct audits to validate legal facilities or fishing vessels at production; or provide a program to educate and train producers on responsible solutions, for example.
2) Initial processors
Initial processors should be a focal point of any initiative because they have more direct relationships with raw material suppliers and are the main actors at the point where raw material origin is often lost as material is mixed and transformed into a manufacture-grade product.
Processing facilities should establish policies, procedures and supporting management systems as well as conduct proper and higher quality due diligence - and drive these efforts up their supply chains. Most likely, processors will take policy changes more seriously if they are not allowed to receive any suspect or illegal material into their facilities - as opposed to allowing them to segregate validated legal material from "other material" that is not inspected - and if non-compliance status puts their sales at risk (if the majority of their buyers require compliance status, for example).
Supply chain actors will likely require training and support as they develop and conduct the initial implementation of new policies, protocols and management system processes. Criteria and expectations should be clearly articulated, easy to understand, and achievable.
An initiative should assess initial processors' policies, management systems and due diligence programs, and make results publicly available.
3) Manufacturing-to-retail segment
Brands are in the best position to encourage their suppliers to participate and to ensure that they follow through on participating in a given initiative, including providing disclosures for their supply base and material origin (with some protections for proprietary data) through their existing relationships with these suppliers.
Brands should work with their suppliers to conduct their own due diligence along the manufacturing-to-retail segment of the supply chain, linking with the global initiative on the production and processing stages of the supply chain. Ideally, the fisheries industry - or other commodities - can come together to develop one consistent system (or questionnaire) to address this segment of the supply chain to minimize the impact to supply chain actors and avoid "survey fatigue." Periodic audits of each segment system from the initial processor to retailer should be conducted.
If industry players succeed in developing and implementing efforts for each of these three distinct segments, the various stakeholders will then be able to focus on what is within their realm of influence and align with the function they play in the overall industry. Bringing the separate, yet synergistic, efforts of each segment together under one overarching initiative can then help to spread these efforts - and a common set of expectations - across the entire industry. Once this occurs, real, scaleable and sustainable change is possible.