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WBA launches first of its kind global benchmark ranking seafood companies on their UN SDG impact.

• Seafood Stewardship Index ranks 30 of the most influential seafood companies in the world
• Industry shows broad commitment on sustainability but overall performance needs to improve and more measurable action is needed to meet the SDG agenda
• Thai Union Group tops the ranking, followed by Mowi and Charoen Pokphand Foods

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) have launched the Seafood Stewardship Index ranking 30 of the most influential seafood companies in the world on their commitments, transparency and performance to meet the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Benchmark is the first detailed ranking of these keystone companies based on their sustainability efforts. It analyses where the largest seafood companies need to take bold action in the next decade to meet the UN SDG’s agenda to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future for all.

Overall, WBA found leading practices amongst several of the seafood companies with strong sustainability strategies, sourcing and human rights policies. There are also good examples of how companies manage the environmental impacts of their operations and their work on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture initiatives.

However, the future long-term sustainability of the seafood industry is being hampered by a lack of oversight of operations and supply chains impacting for example, measures to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, protect ecosystems and respecting human rights and working conditions. The performance also indicates that the industry overall needs to move into a phase of active implementation, particularly on how it addresses its impact on ecosystems, human rights and working conditions and local communities with room for considerable improvement.

The seafood industry produces one of the world’s most valuable, globally traded food commodities and is an important nutrient source to around three billion people - especially those in developing countries. The seafood industry also employs millions worldwide with more than hundreds of millions of people depending on it for their livelihoods.

Rik Beukers, Lead Seafood Stewardship Index at WBA, said:

“The high level of engagement by the majority of the companies has facilitated the development of this ranking with deep insights into the seafood industry. Across the ranking there are examples of best practice but overall the Seafood industry needs to act boldly to meet the UN SDG agenda. The most influential seafood companies globally can make significant progress and they need to quickly. The hope is that this benchmark will drive even greater transparency and encourage peer to peer learning to reach the ultimate end goal – more sustainable oceans for us all.”

Gerbrand Haverkamp, Executive Director at WBA, said:

“The big take away from this ranking is that there is now a broad commitment and consensus around sustainability among those companies most subjected to domestic and international scrutiny in the past on issues like human rights, overfishing and pollution. With just one decade left to achieve the SDGs, now is the time for the entire seafood industry to step up. Transforming the food system requires greater transparency and bold action from the Seafood industry. Our oceans and the people directly depending on them rely on getting this right and fast. That starts with some of the most influential global seafood companies getting a better grip on their operations.”

The ranking

The WBA Seafood Stewardship Index ranks the 30 most influential seafood companies based on their efforts towards achieving the UN SDGs, the world’s agenda for working towards a sustainable future. It presents an overall ranking based on the weighted sum of the results in five measurement areas. These areas reflect where key industry stakeholders expect corporate action and where seafood companies could have the most impact. For each of the five measurement area’s WBA looked at the public disclosures, commitments and performance of the companies in the benchmark. The five areas are:

• Governance and management of stewardship practices
• Stewardship of the supply chain
• Ecosystems
• Human rights and working conditions
• Local communities

Overall, Thai Union Group tops the WBA Seafood Stewardship Index 2019 ranking. The company, known for its John West and Chicken of the Sea brands, stands out with robust environmental and social commitments, targets and activities on which it reports publicly.

In second and third in the ranking respectively, are Mowi, a Norwegian integrated salmon farming company formerly known as Marine Harvest, and Thai-based conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods, both demonstrating strengths across most measurement areas. Indeed Mowi scored highest on transparency with a strong sustainability strategy detailing how it manages the impacts of its farming operations. Charoen Pokphand Foods, one of the largest shrimp producers in the world, demonstrates strong human rights commitments and group-level sustainability strategies and targets.

The remainder of the top ten is made up of companies based in developed countries, predominantly Europe. Rank 11 to 20 shows a group of companies based in different geographies, including Europe, Asia and North America. Places 21 to 30 are dominated by Japanese (four) and US-based (three) companies. Half of the companies in this section are privately owned, generally displaying less public disclosure of company policies and operations.

Key findings from the Seafood Stewardship Index

• Most companies are serious about sustainability but it’s time to implement actionable strategies
28 of the companies we measured made reference to their responsibilities towards sustainability. 15 have published forward-looking corporate sustainability strategies. It’s encouraging to see that the seafood industry is recognizing its sustainability responsibilities. Setting out clear strategies and commitments as we move towards 2030. 28 of the benchmarked companies make reference to these responsibilities. Although the depth and quality of the commitments vary greatly. 15 companies have published corporate sustainability strategies that include forward-looking targets for important stakeholder issues. Only two companies (Shanghai Fisheries General Corporation and Yokohama Reito (Yokorei)) do not share this recognition publicly.

Seven companies (Biomar, Charoen Pokphand Foods, Mowi, Nissui, Nomad Foods, Nutreco and Thai Union Group) lead the way, with comprehensive sustainability strategies. Incorporating a variety of social and environmental targets. These companies monitor progress regularly, providing quantitative data to support performance on an annual basis. The keystone companies should ensure that, as a group, they set targets across the board that are broad and ambitious enough to drive standards. Leading the way in accountability across the entire industry, making positive use of their disproportionate influence.

• Complexity of seafood operations and supply chains increases environmental and social risks
Who owns the company? Who is overseeing the company’s seafood operations? Who is responsible for implementing the sustainability strategy? Many of the companies we examined were part of complex and diverse company structures.

Our research showed that generally, the control and oversight of operations and supply chains is inadequate. The result is insufficient implementation and compliance of corporate-wide policies. The complexity and diversity of company business structures and activities across operations, subsidiaries and supply chains impacts the industry’s performance. This increases environmental and social risks.

The larger companies and conglomerates, including Marubeni Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation and Dongwon Enterprise, have a huge number of subsidiaries. These have differing levels of ownership, autonomy and business models. The seafood operations are often a comparatively small part of their overall business portfolio. Similarly, some of the largest seafood companies, such as Maruha Nichiro and Nissui, have large networks of subsidiaries across different continents. For many companies in this industry, the relationship between the parent company and their major subsidiaries is unclear. This makes it very difficult to implement a group-wide sustainability strategy.

• The seafood industry is not on track to achieve the SDG target on IUU fishing
Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) fishing represents up to 26 million tonnes of fish caught annually. It’s clear that companies are committed to excluding IUU fish in their operations – except only about a third of the companies can prove they have specific mechanisms in place to reduce IUU risks in their supply chain.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing must be eliminated by 2020. That is the ambitious UN SDG target. The issue of IUU fishing is widely acknowledged by the industry, with 83% of benchmarked companies stating that they do not accept IUU fish in their operations and supply chains. Most of these companies demonstrate that they have procedures in place to address IUU risks. However, only a third of the companies show that they conduct risk assessments for IUU fisheries specifically. Setting leading examples are Labeyrie Fine Foods and Parlevliet & Van der Plas, who share detailed risk assessment tools to monitor specifically for IUU risks in their supply chains.

Traceability and monitoring systems are regarded as important mechanisms to address IUU. Several companies were able to demonstrate traceability systems monitoring their seafood products, or they are participating in multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at improving traceability in the industry. However, more than a third of the companies in the benchmark did not provide evidence on how they monitor and guarantee the legality of the seafood in their operations and supply chains.

Overall, considering the urgency of achieving this SDG target by its 2020 deadline, the seafood industry needs to move quickly. Their combined action could have a profound impact. Ensuring that marine resources are harvested responsibly and legally.

• Companies are stepping up on human rights but implementation of human rights procedures needs to be improved
22 of the 30 companies we measured have human rights commitments in place. However, they have to turn their commitments into procedures. For example, only 20% could demonstrate that they have a remediation mechanism in place.

While 22 companies have commitments in place, these are only partly evidenced in their corporate procedures. For instance, only 56% of companies demonstrate grievance mechanisms, and just 20% have remediation protocols. There were more encouraging performances on health and safety, with measures implemented across the board (83%).

Top performers show strong human and labour rights policies, aligning with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. While many companies have taken action, labour protection for potential human rights violations remain inadequate or unenforced. The two best performing companies in this area, Charoen Pokphand Foods and Thai Union Group, are based in Thailand, where increasing scrutiny around human rights abuses has positively increased pressure on the seafood industry in the last decade.
[infographic: (high) level of commitments versus (low) level of implementation of key performance indicators (grievance, remedy, health & safety)]

• Urgent need for more transparency on sustainable seafood
28 of the 30 companies benchmarked told us that they work with sustainability certification programmes. Nonetheless, certification and sustainability activities are not clear due to a lack of public disclosure.