Supply chain transparency and seafood

“If we are all going to have to get naked, we might as well get buff.” This quote from Andy Ruben, the first CSO of Walmart, is in reference to transparency. The statement came up during our interviews with companies who have already begun their journey toward greater supply chain transparency. The quote touches on a number of issues we heard repeatedly in our discussions with seafood and supply-chain experts: 1. There is inevitability to greater supply chain transparency — it is something we are all likely going to have to work toward. 2. Get ahead of it — having a “buff” supply chain not only means better control of you product, but also better control of your brand. 3. Everybody’s a little self-conscious about exposing their supply chain. O.k., let’s leave it there.

If there is an industry synonymous with keeping sources secret, it would be fishing and seafood. It is also a market that survived for a long time on price and quality alone — so there were not a lot of questions in the marketplace about which to be transparent. The business model of supply-chain secrecy is being challenged by a transparent model in seafood.

Melissa Garren, Chief Scientific Officer Pelagic Data Systems is the creator of ultra-lightweight vessel tracking systems for boats of all sizes.

Chris Brown, Senior Director Sustainable Business
Asda is a large grocer and retailer taking a leadership role in sustainability efforts in their sector.

Jennifer Golden, Director of Monitoring & Evaluation
WCF is an international membership organization that promotes sustainability in the cocoa sector.

Julie Kuchepatov, Seafood Director
Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade goods in North America and reaches 1.7 million producers globally.

Different supply chains have different challenges—in seafood, the number of species and fisheries is massive; in textiles, the supply chain may start in someone’s home; and in furniture, a single chair may have a dozen sources of wood. Target has to deal with them all. In order to maintain consumer trust, Target has doubled down on their goal of achieving transparency in those supply chains.

Since setting up an office in Bentonville, Arkansas, in 2007, the Environmental Defense Fund has made impressive strides with Walmart to improve the social and environmental sustainability and responsibility of their myriad supply chains. By setting big-picture goals, and identifying environmental and social hot spots in supply chains, even large-scale retailers can change significantly for the better.

In February 2017, Blueyou announced the first dual-certified Fair Trade and MSC seafood product: canned skipjack tuna fished from the Maldives. The Maldives is square in the middle of the Indian Ocean—an area heavily fraught with fisheries management challenges. So how, and why, did Blueyou manage to improve transparency in their supply chains, achieving dual certification, for one of the most challenging species and regions?

In April, 2017 the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership announced that, through its Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP), US retailer Publix would move to publish a list of all of the fisheries from which they source seafood, as well as information on management at those fisheries, catch method, and environmental impact.

There are various contexts by which ‘transparency’ can be defined though in general terms it refers to the openness and disclosure of information that, ideally, is such that it would allow others to readily see what actions are, or are not, being conducted. The importance of transparency in civil life was highlighted by right-to-know movements in more advanced economies during the 1960s and 1970s – typically over local industrial pollution or secrecy in government. Since then the ideals of transparency have become an important facet of modern society, so much so that “unprecedented” openness in U.S. government was a major pledge of Barack Obama in the run-up to his first presidential election.

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