The Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) is a public-private partnership of over 90 stakeholders representing the full seafood value chain, companies, NGOs, governments and international organizations – including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). GSSI promotes sector-wide collaboration to drive forward more sustainable seafood for everyone. We offer a precompetitive platform to develop global solutions for multifaceted sustainability challenges in the seafood industry, including a benchmark for environmental standards. Still, fair social practices have been highlighted as a priority by GSSI Partners since the founding of GSSI in 2015, which made the decision to work together with The Consumer Goods Forum’s Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative (SSCI) to develop seafood-specific criteria for the SSCI’s social compliance benchmark criteria a natural next step.
This collaboration has allowed both of our organisations to have a greater impact within the consumer goods industry, by helping avoid duplication through building on existing efforts and aligning market expectations towards third-party auditing and certification programmes. Now that our jointly developed criteria for the SSCI Benchmark has been published, we have a chance to reflect on this collaboration and how we have been able to bring the expertise of our two organisations together.
The Strength of GSSI
The challenges the seafood industry faces are so complex that a collection of organisations and experts are needed to tackle them, and this is why our global partnership is so valuable. We are committed to raising awareness throughout the seafood sector about the importance of having credible seafood certification and to ensure good social practices within the industry.
Benchmarking is a way of understanding and measuring the performance made by an organisation against expected practices. The information a benchmarking tool allows us to identify gaps and make improvements to fill them. In our case, the SSCI’s At-Sea Operations benchmark that we have developed together is intended to establish a baseline for alignment across third-party certification and monitoring programmes covering on-fishing-vessels activities in order to drive improvements in social conditions over time.
In addition, we are striving for the clarity, confidence and choice provided by benchmarking tools within the sector. We can provide stakeholders with the ability to reference benchmarked programmes providing a holistic view on this very complex topic.
At GSSI, we have a high level of engagement from our recognised scheme owners, who have already proven their credibility in the field of environmental sustainability. These scheme owners are now looking for where to set the bar for fair social practices. Working together with these credible scheme owners, by encouraging them to undergo SSCI benchmarking, will extend the reach of the work being done to improve social conditions in the seafood industry.
Sustainable Seafood Benchmarking: A Glimpse Inside the Process
Developing and implementing a benchmarking tool within the seafood industry is a highly technical process. Under the strategic guidance of the GSSI-SSCI Joint Development Panel, a Technical Working Group (TWG) was established. The TWG represented broad perspectives from across the seafood industry, both in terms of geography and position in the supply chain. It consisted of producers, retailers, NGOs and the FAO. The involvement of GSSI Partners and other stakeholders from the seafood sector helped ensure that the benchmark adequately reflects the complexities of sustainable seafood production.
The development of the GSSI Global Benchmark Tool, our benchmark for environmental standards, consisted of a similar process. For both the first and second versions of our benchmarking tool, we worked with our partners to set their expectations. This process has proven to be a robust and credible approach towards drafting a benchmark framework that sets a high level of expectation, while allowing for flexibility and adequately reflecting the realities at-sea.
In addition to a TWG, public consultation is a highly valuable process in the development of any benchmarking tool. Two public consultations were held to collect feedback on the SSCI At-Sea Operations scope criteria, the same process used for the GSSI benchmark tool. These consultations allowed for a high level of stakeholder engagement within the development of both frameworks. Furthermore, it enabled the TWG to come back to stakeholders with a revised Criteria, and gauge whether stakeholders felt the changes addressed their main concerns. During the second public consultation of the At-Sea Operations scope development with SSCI, it was clear that the main concerns were addressed and that the stakeholder engagement in 2020 had significantly helped to refine the criteria.
Social Compliance and Seafood Sustainability
At GSSI, we are committed to improving the sustainability of the seafood sector, both environmentally and socially. Sustainability is a large umbrella, and environmental regulations and social responsibility certainly fall underneath this overarching canopy. In fact, environmental and social concerns are interlinked and cannot be seen as two separate entities. Oftentimes, we have seen that poor consideration of environmental concerns and a lack of fair social practices go hand-in-hand because they work within the same, unsustainable system.
Improved environmental sustainability can greatly contribute to the improvement of social practices, but it is not always enough. Special attention must be given to social practices in fisheries and aquaculture to ensure no violation of labour rights are missed. There is often insufficient focus on the right indicators for this. Improving social practices within the industry will continue to be a crucial pillar of the work that GSSI is doing moving forward to better the sustainability of seafood.
The Future of Sustainability in the Seafood Industry
Significant progress has been made in developing tools to address major concerns in the industry, such as the seafarers crisis, overfishing, and unsustainable feed ingredients, just to name a few. During the development of the SSCI At-Sea Operations Benchmark Criteria, it was great to see the high level of interest on the topic of fair social practices in seafood production. However, sufficient focus needs to remain in order to implement the available tools and make progress in the industry. We all need to use the available knowledge, and align with other initiatives, to make sure there really is more clarity, confidence, and choice in sustainable seafood.
GSSI is looking forward to continuing the work being done to address the concerns surrounding labour conditions in the seafood supply chain, together with the SSCI. GSSI’s know-how in the seafood sector matched with SSCI’s expertise in supply chain social sustainability makes for a unique and powerful collaboration — a collaboration that will help drive alignment on sustainable seafood production and sourcing worldwide.