How the UK seafood industry is tackling slavery in supply chains

Posted by Tom Pickerell, Technical Director on 17 October 2014

Anti-Slavery Day, which falls on 18th October, aims to 'raise awareness of modern slavery and inspire people to eliminate it.' Whilst incidents of slavery in the UK fishing industry are thankfully rare, the same cannot be said for the prawn industry in Thailand, which was the focus of an investigation by The Guardian earlier this year. The investigation has catapulted the topic of slavery in the fishing industry alongside the welfare of fishermen to the top the agenda at every global fishing conference this year and our seafood industry wants to see
clear action on how it can ensure that the UK seafood supply chain is free from slavery.

However, the safety and welfare of fishermen has been on the Seafish radar for much longer and around 12 months ago we took the decision to revise the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS) and include safety and welfare of fishermen in the standard. Commercial fishing has become more than just about the environment; the social responsibility aspect of fishing is clearly just as important as ensuring stocks are managed effectively.

We have had discussions with all of the major retailers and food service providers in the UK and they have told us that there is a need for a certification standard that demonstrates vessels are responsible with their catch and with their crew. Consumers want ethical supply chains and with the UK Government now demanding that businesses prove their supply chains are free from slavery, we believe RFS will provide the reassurance and transparency required by companies selling seafood, to ensure that they have confidence in their supply chain.

Of course, the nature of the problem in Thailand relates chiefly to the vessels catching the small fish used for fishmeal production (used as feed for warm water prawns), rather than the vessels landing seafood for direct human consumption, but does highlight that there are issues in the farmed fish supply chain that need to be addressed with RFS. At GOAL in Vietnam last week, Morrisons and supplier Lyons Seafoods joined the Global Aquaculture Alliance and IFFO in agreeing to a position statement on the social concerns related to aqua feed production. Morrisons are already committed to using RFS vessels in the UK and with this week's statement, they are ensuring that their aquaculture supply chain will also have to work in line with socially responsible standards including RFS. We predict that the other major retailers and suppliers in the UK will make similar commitments shortly, with many positive discussions recommending RFS taking place.

Our aim is to have the revised RFS ready to roll out by summer 2015, following a robust
trial period in order to get it ISO 17065 accredited and make it a truly global standard. Seafish will also be attending the world Seafood Summit in New Orleans in February to promote RFS to attendees from around the world, hopefully resulting in RFS having a role in other markets.

In the meantime, we will continue to work with industry through our involvement with
the Ethics Working Group and our ongoing discussions around RFS to keep the importance of welfare in the fishing industry firmly at the top of the agenda.