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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Practices of the Largest Seafood Suppliers in the Wild Capture Fisheries Sector: From Vision to Action

Marine Affairs Program, Faculty of Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada
Anova Food USA, 280 10th Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101, USA
Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada
Nippon Foundation Nereus Program, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada
School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-5685, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(8), 2254;
Submission received: 7 March 2019 / Revised: 5 April 2019 / Accepted: 10 April 2019 / Published: 15 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue CSR and Business Ethics for Sustainable Development)


Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the seafood industry is on the rise. Because of increasing public awareness and non-governmental organization (NGO) campaigns, seafood buyers have made various commitments to improve the sustainability of their wild seafood sourcing. As part of this effort, seafood suppliers have developed their own CSR programs in order to meet buyers’ sourcing requirements. However, the CSR of these companies, many of which are mid-supply chain or vertically integrated, remain largely invisible and unstudied. In order to better understand how mid-chain seafood suppliers engage in sustainability efforts, we reviewed the CSR practices of the 25 largest seafood companies globally (by revenue) that deal with wild seafood products. Based on literature, existing frameworks, and initial data analysis, we developed a structured framework to identify and categorize practices based on the issues addressed and the approach used. We found companies implement CSR to address four key areas, and through various activities that fit into five categories: Power; Practices; Partnerships; Public policy; and Philanthropy. One of the biggest gaps identified in this study is the lack of accountability mechanisms, as well as robust and consistent accounting of impacts. Indeed, many companies express commitments without clear goals and structures in place to ensure implementation. Therefore, improvements in seafood company performance on social and environmental aspects may not only require creating a better business case for CSR, but also require ensuring that companies have the necessary processes and structures in place through public oversights and regulations.

1. Introduction

Efforts by the private sector to improve the sustainability of seafood production practices using market-based approaches has been the focus of the sustainable seafood movement since the 1990s [1,2,3]. Indeed, recognizing the decline of global fish stocks, and the lack of response from government regulators, a group of actors, including environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs), philanthropic foundations, certification bodies, standard setting organizations, members of the fishing industry, retailers, food service companies, restaurants, chefs and engaged consumers, have increasingly relied on non-state market-based tools to improve fisheries governance [4].
The most common approach employed by eNGOs has been to develop market-based tools as incentives for retailers to differentiate themselves, and mitigate reputational risks through sustainability credentials. Philanthropic organizations saw this as a win-win approach that could accommodate both their own needs as well as those of nature and business. Using market-based tools such as consumer awareness campaigns, buyer engagement and certification schemes, the sustainable seafood movement aims to (a) educate consumers so they can make more informed seafood purchasing decisions and (b) incentivize seafood supply chains to improve the environmental and social aspects of production practices [1].
The sustainable seafood movement’s theory of change is that by using the purchasing power of consumers and end-buyers to increase market demand for sustainable seafood, producers and suppliers will respond by improving their fishing and buying practices. Reputational risks and the potential for price premiums has indeed led many retailers and food service companies to partner with eNGOs to make sustainable seafood sourcing commitments, and develop sourcing policies that include sustainability criteria [5]. As a result, the fishing industry has been under increasing pressure to demonstrate compliance with market requirements, and develop improvement programs. In other words, the sustainable seafood movement’s market-based approach aims to get seafood value chains to take voluntary actions (e.g., sourcing commitments, certification, supplier codes of conduct and improvement programs), to improve their social and environmental performance in order to meet NGO and consumer demands.
The sustainable seafood movement became the core of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the seafood industry. In other words, the effectiveness of the sustainable seafood movement has come to rely on the voluntary actions of private actors to comply with NGO demands. This is why the voluntary concept of CSR offers a valuable lens to study how seafood value chain actors are effectively taking part in the sustainable seafood movement. CSR is a broad concept, and has been defined in many different ways [6]. One definition that we found useful in the context of the fisheries industry is the one presented by Blowfield & Frynas [7] (p. 503) who defined CSR as ‘‘an umbrella term for a variety of theories and practices, all of which recognize the following: (a) that companies have a responsibility for their impact upon society and the natural environment, sometimes beyond legal compliance and the liability of individuals; (b) that companies have a responsibility for the behaviour of others with whom they do business (e.g., within value chains); and (c) that business needs to manage its relationship with wider society, whether for reasons of commercial viability, or to add value to society”. The CSR strategies and tools created by the sustainable seafood movement reflect this definition of CSR, as many of the demands made by NGOs consist of aspects of environmental and social compliance, often with private standards that go beyond legal compliance. Moreover, the strategy of NGOs targeting end-buyers assumes that they have the power and therefore responsibility to change the practices occurring in their value chains. Finally, growing transparency and media attention on seafood sustainability issues are threatening the reputation and legitimacy of seafood companies, which increasingly requires them to consider and manage their stakeholder relationships. The lack of an agreed-upon definition of CSR, and the broad definition presented above, shows that there is ample room for companies to define and implement CSR in the ways that they see it, which often depends on the issues at hand, as well as the power and will of companies to act upon and influence those issues. The lack of prescription in how CSR should be implemented has therefore lead to many CSR tools and strategies to be developed without fully understanding whether and how they actually contribute to sustainable development [8]. Part of this paper therefore aims to reflect on the potential of CSR to deal with social and environmental issues in the fisheries sector.
Given their global reach and position between end-buyers (who make sourcing commitments) and the fisheries (that supply raw material), it has been argued that large seafood suppliers have a key role to play in making the seafood industry sustainable [9]. However, except for companies that own their own brands, seafood suppliers are typically invisible to consumers, and therefore subject to limited NGO and media attention.
Even though the presence and participation of mid-chain actors in the sustainable seafood movement has been recognized or mentioned by some authors [9,10,11], a large part of the literature looking at private environmental and social governance in the seafood industry has mainly been on the role of consumer-facing end-buyers, NGOs and consumers in driving improvements [12,13,14]. Therefore, there is a gap in our understanding of the role that mid-chain seafood companies are currently playing in the sustainable seafood movement.
With the rising awareness of the negative environmental and social impacts of economic activities, and therefore sustainable development, there has been increasing pressure on the business community to measure and report transparently about those impacts, in the hopes that “what gets measured, gets managed” [15]. As a result, CSR accounting and reporting has become widespread across sectors and industries as a way to assess and communicate the social and environmental externalities of an organization’s activities, and demonstrate actions taken to internalize those externalities [16]. Whether CSR reports do lead businesses to internalize and mitigate their negative impacts on society is certainly subject to debate [17], with one of the main current limitations being the lack of a consistent method to account for, to measure, and to compare social and environmental impacts between companies, and how these are interlinked with economic growth and sustainability [18]. As in other resource-based industries, seafood suppliers have started producing CSR reports (and web-pages) as a way to demonstrate and communicate their CSR commitments to relevant stakeholders. Therefore, despite their limitations, CSR reports can provide some insights into how businesses currently frame, assess, and try to deal with social and environmental externalities.
We ask two questions: 1. What are the current CSR practices of the largest 25 seafood suppliers?; and 2. What potential do these practices offer to drive social and environmental improvements in seafood value chains and fisheries management?. In doing so, we review and critically analyze how the largest 25 seafood suppliers claim to address social and environmental issues in the fisheries industry using a CSR lens, their potential for being effective and transformative and potential gaps in the approaches currently taken. Based on CSR reports and corporate websites, we analyze how CSR is internally governed, which issues CSR programs aim to address, and what types of CSR activities are being implemented.

2. Materials and Methods

For this study, we used publicly available information found in corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability reports, as well as the corporate websites of the largest 25 seafood suppliers [19]. In the case where subsidiary companies were listed, publicly available data on the CSR programs of these subsidiary companies was also included. All data were downloaded between February and March 2018, and analyzed through a manual content analysis with cross checking by co-authors for 20% of the companies. In cases where an English version of the websites and/or CSR report was not available, Google Translate and Japanese and Chinese Mandarin speakers helped with the translation (see Supplementary Material for the detailed coding tables). The use of publicly available CSR reports and the websites is a limitation that we are conscious of, especially given that not all companies necessarily value the need to publicly communicate CSR, and focus more on business-to-business communication [20,21]. Therefore, this review is not a complete and accurate reflection of the efforts implemented by those companies, but rather an initial landscaping of CSR in the wild seafood industry, opening the possibility for further research.
To answer our first question, related to which CSR activities these companies participate in, we analyzed internal CSR governance in the company, and assessed the strategies presented to address those four aforementioned categories of seafood CSR issues. The overall framework and its stepwise progression can be seen in Figure 1, with each step explained in detail below. The analysis was divided into four steps (Figure 1).
First, we assessed the internal CSR framework for designing and planning CSR. We also assessed what platform was used to communicate CSR (i.e., website and/or CSR report). The second step was to assess objectives, monitoring and transparency for each of the issues and sub-issues. Finally, we assessed the implementation strategies or activities used for each of the issues and sub-issues.
This multi-step framework was developed based on the CSR literature, existing frameworks, as well as iteratively, based on a preliminary analysis of the data.
To design step 1 of the framework, we chose three criteria to assess how CSR is governed internally, namely whether or not the company has a CSR vision, CSR staff and/or a CSR committee, as well as any formal process for identifying and engaging with stakeholders (Table 1). Incorporating CSR concerns and sustainability in its vision and management philosophy is the first step for a company to transform its business model and its activities, such that they align with the principles of sustainable development [22]. Indeed, having a company-level vision for sustainability contributes to creating a deeper meaning to the organization and its employees, and therefore influences behaviours and decisions [23,24]. To operationalize the vision into action, it is important to have dedicated CSR staff and/or a CSR committee managing CSR-related activities, such as implementation, monitoring and reporting. Based on stakeholder theory, the survival and success of an organization hinges on the organization’s ability to create wealth, value or satisfaction for its stakeholders, as opposed to doing so exclusively for its shareholders [25]. Stakeholders may be defined as ‘‘groups and individuals who can affect, or are affected by, the achievement of an organization’s mission’’ [26] (p. 54). Today, as a result of increasing transparency, engaging with stakeholders is more important than ever, but it is also becoming more complex, as the range of stakeholders whom companies have to deal with is increasing, from consumers, to supply chain partners, local communities, to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and governments. Engaging with stakeholders is important for companies to understand how their CSR activities helps them meet stakeholder interests, and maintain their legitimacy [27].
For step 2 of the framework, we looked at four broad categories of CSR issues that are relevant to the wild capture fisheries industry, including general environmental issues, sustainable fisheries, human rights and labour practices, and community engagement (Table 2). The selection of these four categories of CSR issue was based on the UN Global Compact principles [28], the Sustainable Seafood Index’s ‘measurement areas’ [29], and a preliminary analysis of the data.
The UN Global Compact, a United Nations pact formed in 2000, and designed to encourage and guide businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible practices, is based on a list of 10 principles divided in four key areas (Table 3). This list represents key global CSR issues across all sectors.
Between 2016 and 2017, the Index Initiative launched the development of the Seafood Stewardship Index (SSI) and released a draft methodology to benchmark the largest seafood companies for their contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The methodology lists five CSR categories of indicators or ‘measurement areas’ based on relevant SDGs, the Organization for Standardization (ISO) 26000 Social responsibility guidance standard, various international conventions and guidelines (e.g., FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, International Labour Organization (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention) and multi-stakeholder roundtable consultations that included independent experts, seafood companies, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations and governments. These ‘measurement areas’ include (1) Governance of stewardship practices; (2) Compliance, traceability and procurement; (3) Ecosystems; (4) Human rights and working conditions; and (5) Local communities [29].
The sustainable seafood movement initially formed to deal only with the ecological aspects of sustainable fisheries, but more recently, broader environmental concerns, like carbon emissions, as well as social concerns, such as forced labour, have been incorporated into the movement. Additionally, community engagement is an important aspect of CSR across industries and sectors, including companies whose activities have an environmental impact, such as the extraction of natural resources [30,31].
Despite life cycle assessment studies being conducted since the early 2000s, the environmental impacts of seafood production (other than the direct impacts of fishing), such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, waste and pollution, have only recently become a focus of the sustainable seafood movement (e.g., the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Carbon Emissions Tool, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative). The environmental impacts of fishing operations include greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and lost fishing gear [32,33,34]. As in other food industries, the impact of seafood processing and transport operations, includes energy use, water consumption and packaging [35]. The issue of sustainable fisheries has been the largest focus of the sustainable seafood movement and includes a number of sub-issues including sustainable fish stocks, ecosystem impacts, fisheries management and illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing [36,37]. Social issues in the seafood industry became more prominent following a series of media reports of modern slavery and human trafficking in various fisheries [38,39]. Social issues occur within a different level of the value chain, both in the fishing and processing sector, and include human rights, working conditions, labour rights, health and safety, and gender equity [40,41,42,43]. Community engagement or community relations is a topic that has been on the CSR agenda of many globalized industries, and consists of activities that aim to improve the relationship between companies and the local communities in which they operate [44]. Community engagement is less streamlined in terms of what issues it addresses, but generally deals with gaining or maintaining a “social license to operate” and contributing to the well-being, socio-economic development and empowerment of communities [30,45]. Global companies operate in different “local communities”, which means community engagement can range from improving the well-being of communities in developed and developing countries.
For step 3, we chose four criteria to assess how companies set objectives and specific goals, how they monitor progress, and whether they transparently report on their progress (Table 4). We drew those four criteria from principles and frameworks related to effective management. One of the most prominent frameworks is the “management by objective” framework developed by Peter Drucker, which is based on the following principles for setting objectives: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound (S.M.A.R.T) [46]. Moreover, the literature on monitoring and evaluation has also developed principles to help organizations decide on which elements to monitor and measure. For instance, the Goldilocks frameworks puts forward four key principles (1) Credible data; (2) Actionable data; (3) Responsible data; and (4) Transportable Data [47].
Finally, step 4 categories on CSR strategies were chosen based on a review of the CSR and private governance literature, and a preliminary analysis of the data. We chose to look at five broad categories of common CSR activities, including supply chain control, internal improvements, partnerships, guiding government, philanthropy and awareness (Table 5). First, companies may implement CSR through supply chain management or supply chain control, using tools such as supplier codes of conduct [48,49] and purchasing policies [50,51]. Second, companies may focus their efforts on the improvement of their own internal practices by implementing new protocols through codes of conducts, policies and certification. Third, companies may partner with NGOs and/or other businesses to develop best practices standards and implement improvements [51,52,53]. A fourth approach companies can take, especially in a sector like fisheries, where shared resources are ultimately under the management of governments, is to engage or guide governments through advocacy and participation in policy making [51,54]. Lastly, companies can also implement CSR through philanthropic activities such as donations to charities or employee volunteer programs [55].
We chose to assess the CSR practices of the largest 25 seafood companies as determined by the Undercurrent News’s 2017 report of the world’s largest seafood companies by revenue [19] (Table 6). Large seafood suppliers are often seafood companies that are typically vertically integrated and involved in one or more value chain activity, including processing, importing, branding and marketing of fishery products and sometimes fishing, and controlling large parts of seafood value chains [56]. Moreover, a small number of large seafood companies control up to 16% of the global marine catch [9] and have been the focus of recent NGO campaigns and partnerships (e.g., Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature (formally World Wildlife Fund, WWF), the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership) and academic research [57]. Moreover, top tier companies in a sector are generally expected to be a model and leadership for business model innovation, including CSR-related aspects. Therefore, these companies are perceived by some as important to engage for driving change in seafood value chains. Looking at the CSR practices of large seafood suppliers can help us gain a better understanding of the current role and responsibilities that mid-chain seafood companies are taking to improve seafood value chains, and reflect on their contribution.
The top 25 seafood companies have headquarters in South East-Asia, Europe and North America with seven of those companies based in Japan, seven in the EU, and five in the US. In order to characterize those companies further, we reviewed which value chain activities they are involved in, based on the information available on their individual websites (Table 6). Almost all the companies (22) are involved in processing activities and, 13 companies are involved in at least three value chain activities, thus showing extensive vertical integration. Nine companies appeared to be directly involved in fishing operations. It should be noted that it is beyond the scope of this study to see the heterogeneity of companies’ behaviour beyond the top 25, and whether company characteristics affect CSR behaviour.

3. Results

This section may be divided by subheadings. It should provide a concise and precise description of the experimental results, their interpretation as well as the experimental conclusions that can be drawn.

3.1. Step 1: CSR Governance Framework and Communication

Results show that 20 companies present a formal CSR vision, while only 11 companies mention having a CSR committee or CSR manager/director, and only 11 companies (47%) explicitly mention engaging with stakeholders (Figure 2). CSR visions were either indirectly expressed in the form of a CSR action plan, CSR policy or sustainability strategy, or directly included in the corporate mission and vision. For instance, Kyokuyo writes in their corporate mission that “management will take leadership to contribute to sustainable social development by considering environmental impacts” and Labeyrie Foods writes that “CSR is the cornerstone of the group’s development”. How companies presented their stakeholder engagement efforts varied, with some being more specific and organizing formal stakeholder dialogues events (e.g., Bolton Alimentari, Nissui) and materiality assessments (e.g., Thai Union, Marubeni). Companies with CSR committees typically include the president, CEO or executive board on the committee, or report to them directly. In terms of how CSR information is communicated, 23 companies (92%) have a section on their website dedicated to sustainability, and 11 have a public CSR report, although some of them were outdated, going back to 2015.

3.2. Step 2: CSR Objectives, Monitoring, and Transparency

Almost all companies (92%) express intent to implement improvements across all categories of issues, but far fewer (20%) set specific targets (Figure 3). Intent was typically expressed using general statements such as “we are committed to environmentally-responsible food manufacturing” (Nissui), “we support sustainable fisheries” (TriMarine International) or “we will continue to check the situation on human rights” (Marubeni Corportation). General environmental issues was the issue for which most companies (9) set specific targets (e.g., “we will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 3% by 2020” (Nissui), with only five companies setting specific targets for sustainable fisheries “ (e.g., “We are moving toward having 100 percent of our branded tuna either Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified or engaged in a fishery improvement project, with a minimum target of 75 percent by 2020” (Thai Union) or “full traceability by 2017” (Thai Union). Only one company (Thai Union) had specific targets for health and safety aspects measured through quantifiable indicators such as lost-time injury frequency rate per hours worked.
Claims that issues are being monitored were more common (60%) for general environmental issues mostly through Environmental Monitoring Systems (EMS), in line with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14000 certification. Thirteen companies (52%) claimed to monitor human and labour rights issues through social audits, such as the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex) supplier mapping and assessments, as well as internal monitoring of occupational health and safety incidental rates. In general, monitoring claims were often not followed by transparent reporting, except for general environmental aspects. For sustainable fisheries, four companies (16%) were transparent about how much of their product is MSC certified, or meets their criteria for sustainable sourcing. In the case of International Sustainable Seafood Foundation (ISSF) member companies (Bumble Bee Foods, Bolton Alimentari, Thai Union and TriMarine International) transparent reporting consisted in aggregate compliance reports that are publicly available on ISSF’s website [58].

3.3. Step 3: CSR Implementation Practices

3.3.1. General Environment

Twenty companies (80%) mentioned addressing general environmental issues (Figure 4), usually through internal improvements, such as waste reduction through increased recycling and packaging innovation, use of more energy efficient technologies and transportation practices, and use of renewable energy (Table 7). Several companies claimed to be ISO 14000 certified, a standard that requires environmental monitoring systems to be in place. Twelve companies (48%) addressed environmental issues through supply chain control, mainly by having clauses related to environmental protection in supplier codes of conduct and associated supplier audits. Philanthropic and awareness activities were also used by nine companies (36%), including consumer awareness, local clean-up events, contribution to climate change research, employee education and finally funding of local environmental initiatives. Four companies (16%) had partnerships with programs such the EPA Smartway initiative, recycling banks or research projects for eco-packaging.

3.3.2. Sustainable Fisheries

Twenty-three companies (92%) stated that they were implementing sustainable fisheries improvements (Figure 4). All five types of activities were found to be used to address sustainable fisheries, with the most common ones being supply chain control and internal improvements (Table 8). Examples of supply chain control activities included commitments to buying MSC certified products, requirements from vessel owners to sign up on ISSF’s Proactive Vessel Registry (PVR), purchasing policies that avoid sourcing from overfished stocks or from fisheries with a high bycatch. Some companies claimed to have a due diligence process in place, such as supplier mapping and assessment. Changes to internal practices mostly consisted of implementing better traceability, improving fishing practices, such as bycatch reduction, and on-board monitoring or becoming MSC certified (for companies engaged in fishing).
Fifteen companies (60%) mentioned partnering with other organizations such as NGOs (e.g., WWF, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Greenpeace, the International Union for Conservation of Nature), other businesses (e.g., ISSF) and scientists (e.g., SeaBos, l’Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer (IFREMER; English: French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea)). Formal multi-stakeholder partnerships were common, including Fishery Improvement Products (FIPs), the Sustainable Seafood Coalition and ISSF. Depending on the fishery, companies were found to engage with governments at local, national and regional levels by participating in fishery councils (e.g., North Pacific Council), attending regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) meetings and working with multi-stakeholder initiatives and special interest groups, such as the pelagic freezer trawler association and the ISSF. However, it was sometimes unclear how companies go about engaging with government, making vague statements such as “we actively participate in regional and federal fisheries management processes” (Trident Seafoods) or “we engage with policy makers on better fisheries management” (TriMarine International).
Philanthropic and awareness activities included organizing sustainable seafood events, financing FIPs and turtle conservation programs. Many Japanese companies also have their own foundations, some of them working to promote sustainable fisheries and seafood consumption.
Over a third of the companies were found to build on and/or contribute to scientific research. Seafood companies involved in fishing activities mentioned supporting science-based management through improved reporting and monitoring, whereas other seafood companies claimed that their purchasing decisions are based on science-based fish stock assessments. Other ways to engage with science was through direct financial support to research projects (e.g., gear innovation, electronic data recording and traceability). One recent approach has been the formation of an alliance between large seafood companies facilitated by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Seafood Business for Ocean Solutions).

3.3.3. Human and Labour Rights

Issues of human and labour rights were mentioned by 19 companies (76%), and in most cases these issues were dealt with through supply chain control and internal improvements (Figure 4). Supplier codes of conduct typically targeted human and labour rights issues in processing plants (e.g., Business Ethics and Labour code of conduct), and were often accompanied by a due diligence supplier assessment process (Table 9). Many companies claimed using international principles and guidelines such as International Labour Organization (ILO) standards and UN conventions to develop their codes of conducts. Companies reported that the supplier assessment process was either done internally (i.e., supplier self-reporting) or through a 2nd or 3rd party assessment. Based on supplier assessments, companies then decided whether to engage with suppliers for making improvements, or to cease the business relationship. Companies mentioned several frameworks, tools and standards such a those offered by Sedex, an organization that offers risk assessment tools and an online platform where suppliers self report. Sedex also offers auditing services to suppliers (Sedex Member Ethical Trade Audit). Companies also reported using the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI), a membership-based organization that requires its members to sign on to its code and principles. ETI members must report transparently about their activities and to the ETI board, which then provides feedback and advice for improvement. Other frameworks companies mentioned include the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) which is similar to Sedex, offering a standardized code of conduct, implementation methodology, auditing and engagement tools. With regards to fishing activities, one company (Thai Union) had developed a Vessel Code of Conduct to be used for third party audits in its supply chains, while companies involved in fishing activities usually wrote that they were committed to good working conditions onboard fishing vessels (e.g., “we are committed to providing exceptional operating conditions” (Trident Seafoods) or “we are committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment” (Pacific Seafood Group). Another tool mentioned was the Seafood Slavery Risk Tool, developed specifically for the seafood industry and which provides businesses with an assessment methodology and resources for implementing improvements in labour practices.
As most of the companies are involved in processing (88%), 15 companies included their own internal practices in their improvement programs through company codes of conduct and policies, covering issues of ethical recruitment, training of workers in health and safety, as well as labour and human rights issues and internal monitoring and accountability systems (e.g., the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18001)). As required by the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015), a few of the European companies present their strategy to ensure slavery and human trafficking are not occurring in their value chains. However, there are no legally binding requirements to conduct due diligence, and no penalties for non-compliance. California’s Transparency in Supply Chain Act (2012) makes similar requirements, which only one company in the study has to comply with (Bumble Bee Foods).
Seven companies (28%) claim to be engaged in partnerships either with other businesses and/or NGOs, to work on human and labour issues. Four of them are members of the Global Seafood Task Force, a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to develop guidelines and auditable standards for responsible recruitment practices and working conditions on board fishing vessels. One company has partnered with other industry members, the Thai government and NGOs to specifically improve the Thai seafood industry (Thai Union). Examples of NGO partners include Verite, ISSARA, Greenpeace, WWF, Seafish, ISSF, the International Justice Mission and Fishwise. Finally, one company (Bumble Bee Foods) is a member of the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI), an organization that benchmarks certification standards against internationally agreed guidelines, and which has now recently expanded its scope to include social standards.
Only seven companies presented efforts that targeted governments, instead making general statements such as “we are working with the Thai government” (Thai Union). Philanthropic and awareness activities were also rare, consisting of “promoting positive change” (Bumble Bee Foods, Thai Union) at conferences, carrying out campaigns to raise awareness on human rights issues and making donations to the “Not for Sale”, an NGO that focuses on market-based solutions to address and prevent the root causes of human trafficking globally.

3.3.4. Community Engagement

Nineteen companies mention at least one activity related to community engagement, mostly consisting of internal improvements and philanthropy (Figure 4). Internal improvements focused on employee development and services, providing jobs to local communities (for those companies involved in processing), and also employee engagement and promotion of diversity (e.g., hiring people with disabilities) (Table 10).
Philanthropy was the most common approach to community engagement, and involved donations to local charities (especially organizations focused on youth education, helping communities stricken by natural disasters, and food banks), employee volunteering activities and also contributions to cultural institutions and events. Seven companies (28%) partnered with NGOs that work in community development by providing, for example, access to education (e.g., Save the Children, Jambo Bukoba), access to renewable energy and support to marginalized communities (e.g., Greenland).

4. Discussion

In this paper we sought to analyze what the largest seafood companies are doing in terms of CSR, and to provide commentary and analysis on the potential for these CSR practices to drive change. It is evident from the results of this study that the top 25 seafood companies have CSR on their radar, with 47% of the companies having a CSR report, and 92% having a section of their website communicating about CSR, tackling a range of issues, and doing things through different approaches.
It is also evident, however, that having CSR on one’s radar does not necessarily translate into formalized actions and targets. In this section we discuss this gap between vision and action, and the extent to which the main CSR activities of the five Ps: Power; Practices; Partnerships; Public policy; and Philanthropy, are being used in service of the sustainable seafood movement.

4.1. Transforming Vision into Action

For twenty companies (80%), we observed that a gap exists between having a CSR vision and a more structured and formalized action plan with specific targets. Similarly, more companies communicated CSR informally through their corporate website, rather than through a structured CSR report. One possible explanation for this lag could be that high-level commitments are deemed to be sufficient to build a positive reputation and corporate image, while setting more specific goals would be too difficult or constraining. Even though the target audience of those reports likely varies depending on the company’s activities (e.g., customers, consumers, investors and NGOs), it has been argued that CSR and CSR reporting primarily aims to build legitimacy among a company’s stakeholders, rather than actually internalizing social and environmental externalities [59]. Our results suggest that CSR among large seafood companies, at least partly, consists of image and impression management. That being said, setting specific CSR targets may also be challenging for several valid reasons. For instance, many of the issues which seafood companies face, such as fisheries management and labour issues, are partially out of their control and are defined by high uncertainties, especially in countries where regulations are weak, and any enforcement capacity is limited. Moreover, seafood value chains can be long and complex, spread over many different countries, making it even more challenging to monitor and control production practices [60]. Lastly, many social and environmental impacts are qualitative in nature, and are interlinked in a complex way within a broader system or variable. This and a lack of consistent social and environmental accounting methodology makes it difficult for companies to assess their impacts and set specific goals [17,18]. This may, at least partially, explain why companies may be more likely to have explicit and quantified targets for internal aspects such as energy efficiency and health and safety, than for sustainable fisheries and social aspects. The absence of explicit and quantified targets also explains why only a handful of companies had monitoring systems in place. Lastly, the general absence of specific targets and monitoring may explain why so few companies transparently reported on progress. One exception was for human and labour rights aspects, which over half the companies monitored, but only four made audit reports about it publicly available. Again, it could be that as a result of human and labour rights scandals, companies are now expected to have due diligence processes in place to ensure violations are not taking place in their supply chains, without yet having the capacity and systems in place to comprehensively monitor and report on social issues in their supply chains [42].
Less than half of the companies noted having a formal stakeholder engagement process and a dedicated CSR staff or committee. It is unclear why this is the case, but could be because companies do not think of it as necessary to report on it and/or because is done in informal ways. It is important to note that is hard for companies to succeed in recognizing their CSR visions without any dedicated CSR staff. Similarly, if stakeholder engagement is not in place, it is unlikely that CSR issues are fully integrated in business activities, as stakeholders can allow companies to ensure their CSR strategies align with stakeholder interests. Except for companies that own consumer-facing brands (e.g., Bumble Bee Foods, Bolton Alimentari, Thai Union, Nissui, High Liner, Nomad Food), 12 (48%) of the companies reviewed in this study are not identifiable by consumers, and therefore do not face the same reputational risks from the public. This may also limit the ability of the stakeholder to pressure companies into making stricter CSR commitments and hold them accountable [61].

4.2. Power: Supply Chain Compliance Using Private Standards and Purchasing Power

Large seafood companies use supply chain control mechanisms to ensure suppliers comply with social and environmental standards, especially sustainable fisheries and human and labour rights. Supply chain control can help companies mitigate reputational risks and maintain market access (where the market punishes poor performance) as well as gain a competitive advantage, or increase their market share (in cases where the market rewards good supply chain performance). This ‘compliance model’ [62] is based on leveraging the purchasing power of large companies to change production practices in global value chains, therefore bypassing slow (inter)governmental processes (e.g., WTO), and issues of state sovereignty [63]. Therefore, some argue that private voluntary standards can complement and/or be a stepping stone to public regulation by filling regulatory gaps, especially in low-regulated environments, such as certain developing countries. However, the effectiveness of private codes and standards is mixed and uneven, and depends upon the appropriateness of the standard used, the incentives for suppliers to comply, and the mechanisms to verify compliance [64,65].
Seafood companies vary in the standards they use and the way they verify compliance. With regards to social compliance, some companies require suppliers to comply with national laws, while others require certification against specific standards (e.g., Sedex or SA8000), or develop their own codes based on international guidelines (e.g., ILO Work in Fishing Convention). With regards to fisheries sustainability, companies typically claim to give preference to MSC certified and/or Seafood Watch approved fisheries, fisheries in a credible FIP, and fisheries compliant with the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. While relying on private standards to exert supply chain control may seem like a straightforward way to operationalize CSR, there are a number of challenges around compliance, as well as legitimacy of standards developed by western organizations and markets, thus limiting its acceptance in non-western regions [66,67]. For instance, the effectiveness of the MSC standard and FIPs in transforming fisheries management globally has been limited with only 10% of MSC certified fisheries being in the developing world [64,68,69,70]. Similarly, the effectiveness of social audits in achieving sustained improvements through ‘social upgrading’ [71,72] has been mixed, as these usually only address ‘outcome’ aspects of working conditions, such as health and safety and fail to address ‘process’ aspects, such as worker empowerment [48].
The use of supply chain control mechanisms such as codes of conduct, independent audits and purchasing policies is based on the assumption that the economic leverage which lead firms have over their suppliers also enables them to enforce compliance against social and environmental standards [72,73]. In other words, civil society organizations use the power of lead firms by threatening their reputation through “name and shame” campaigns, forcing them to adopt and implement standards and corporate codes in their supply chains [62]. The large seafood companies reviewed in this study are typically vertically integrated, and handle large volumes of wild seafood, and have value chains that expand all over the globe, a trend that is likely to increase with the growing number of mergers and acquisitions [9]. The effectiveness of the compliance model also depends on audit quality and transparency of results, as it is used by NGOs to threaten under-performing companies by mobilizing the media and consumers. We found that large seafood companies do not make publicly available the results of social audits nor any assessment of the sustainability of the fisheries they source from, making it hard to judge their performance against their commitments, nor the quality of audits. With regards to social audits, ensuring high quality audits can be challenging, as these usually require auditors to be trained in many different fields (e.g., human rights, health & safety, labour rights etc.) and for issues to be continuously monitored.
Lastly, compliance depends on the incentives for suppliers to comply with social audits. These can be limited by the push for lower prices, demands for higher production volumes and high costs of improvements. Under this model, the consequence of non-compliance usually consists of reduced orders or the termination of the business relationship. Despite those limitations, codes have had positive impacts, and sometimes complement public regulation and enforcement.
For instance, it was found that codes can outperform government enforcement for health and safety issues and formalization of employment, while government regulations perform better in relation to the illegal use of short-term contracts and non-permanent workers [48]. With regards to fisheries sustainability, information disclosure by companies was selective. Indeed, certification and assessment reports (e.g., MSC, Seafood Watch) as well as FIP performance ( are usually made public, however companies do not generally disclose performance information on fisheries that are not in one of these programs, despite making claims of due diligence. Tools such as the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP) that aim to increase transparency in seafood value chains could be used to address this gap.
Given the limitations of the ‘compliance model’, some authors advocate for a ‘cooperation’ model, which involves using audit results for continuous improvement rather than “punishment”. Instead, buyers and suppliers work together through joint-problem solving, diffusion of best practices and capacity building to solve non-compliances with substantial investment from the buyers [62,74,75,76]. For sustainable fisheries and social compliance, initiatives such as Fair Trade USA, fishery improvement projects and the Ethical Trade Initiative are representative of the ‘cooperation model’ where companies work with their supply chains using a continuous improvement approach. However, the extent to which large seafood companies are involved and partner with their suppliers in implementing improvements, and thus contributing to the ‘cooperation’ model, remains to be studied.

4.3. Practices: Company Level Improvements

We found that company level improvements used to address various social and environmental issues can generally be linked to a clear ‘business case’ [77,78]. For instance, activities aimed at reducing energy and water use can lead to significant cost-savings. Many companies mention programs to improve traceability to support sustainable fisheries by fighting IUU and seafood fraud. However traceability can also lead to improvements at the company level, such as improved efficiency, risk reduction and competitive advantage [79]. Some of the companies involved in fishing mention internal practices to improve fishing practices (e.g., FIP), and obtaining MSC certification. These types of improvements can lead to a better reputation, maintenance or a gain of market access, and in some cases price premiums [67,80]. Many companies present activities to ensure good working conditions, empower employees and provide career development opportunities. These types of activities represent potential investments in human capital, such as employee loyalty and performance, which can in turn lead to increased competitive advantage [23]. Finally, many companies claimed to contribute to the socio-economic development of local communities by providing employment and ensuring fair and ethical business practices.
These types of activities can directly benefit companies reinforcing their social license to operate, and thus, its successful operation [30]. Therefore, it seems that the extent to which companies improve their social and environmental performance is limited by the extent to which there is a clear business case associated with it, such as increased market share, improved reputation or enhanced production efficiency. However, market reward for good environmental and social practices is still limited, with most customers still purchasing products based on price and convenience, rather than sustainability. For instance, the premium for MSC-certified seafood still remains elusive, especially for mid-chain companies such as the one analyzed in this study [81]. Thus, carrying the MSC logo does not guarantee companies more money, but does ensure continued access to downstream actors, i.e., companies can continue to sell their product. In cases where there is a ‘market for virtue’, it is usually limited to informed and affluent customers [82]. Moreover, the market tends to negatively reward poor-performing companies rather than positively reward good-performing ones (i.e., we might be willing to boycott irresponsible companies, but would not be willing to pay more for well-performing ones). Beyond providing positive market rewards, ensuring that company level improvements are fairly rewarded requires transparent accountability mechanisms to disclose company performance accurately [83,84].
However, we found that, except for general environmental aspects, companies usually did not monitor nor disclose social and environmental performance publicly, making it difficult to judge whether the CSR activities they claim to implement are effective, in turn leading to risks of false claims and greenwashing. These risks can be mitigated, as has been done by some companies reviewed in this study (e.g., Trident, Thai Union), by having their own facilities or fishing operations independently certified.
Transparency, or lack thereof, remains a key issue for assessing the CSR practices and performances of companies. If performance would be made more transparent, the business case for CSR may still be limited by the fact that many of the companies reviewed in this study are not consumer-facing, restricting the extent to which NGOs can leverage their reputation and threaten their market access [61]. Indeed, given that over 70% of retail purchases of seafood take place in supermarkets in many countries [85], retailers in the United States, the European Union and now Japan, have been the primary target of private governance systems in global seafood value chains. However, these markets consume only 35% of total marine fisheries landings and thus, leaving seafood sold and consumed in developing world markets which are unaffected by retailer pressure in developed countries [86]. Moreover, some of the companies reviewed here also sell into markets where demand for sustainability is low or non-existent.
For non-consumer-facing companies, a potential point of leverage for improving their business case through sustainable practices, is investors. Impact investment funds targeting seafood have recently been emerging (e.g., the Meloy Fund, Encourage capital) together with principles for investment in sustainable wild capture fisheries [87]. However, the effectiveness of this approach remains to be studied, and none of the companies in this study mention working with impact investors. In summary, making company level improvements is a valuable and valid approach towards the social and environmental performance of large seafood companies, but limited by the extent to which these improvements benefit those companies, such as increased market access, reputation and improved efficiency.

4.4. Partnerships

We found that seafood companies form partnerships with NGOs mainly to address issues related to sustainable fisheries and human and labour rights, and to a lesser extent for general environmental and community engagement issues. The goal of these partnerships generally consists of developing standards for best practices (e.g., corporate codes, certification standards), implementing improvements (e.g., FIPs, Ethical Trade Initiative) and in some cases, jointly-engaging with governments (e.g., ISSF). There are two main potential benefits for businesses partnering with NGOs. First, when NGOs endorse a CSR program, these help build a credible sustainability image and reputation in the market. Moreover, cooperative (as opposed to adversarial) business-NGO relationships can help advance both agendas by combining expertise and capabilities to develop private standards [88] and implement programs that deal with complex issues such as human rights and overfishing [7,89].
However, there is considerable debate on whether these partnerships are fulfilling their intended objectives [52]. First, NGO-business partnerships are inherently challenged by the difficulty of reconciling divergent institutional logics, leading to different value frames and expectations. As a result, some authors argue that NGO-business partnerships are imbalanced and dominated by the business logic, a sort of taming of civil society actors, limiting rather than expanding NGO activism [63]. Indeed, some authors argue that because CSR results from “a societal backlash against the externalities and excesses of corporate power”, it represents an “ongoing process of contestation about the role of business and society”, where corporations try to keep the upper hand as part of a broader hegemonic project [90] (p. 8). This is in line with the perspective that firm and non-firm actors are engaged in continuous struggles over the governance of GPNs [91].
Additionally, some authors warn that private governance mechanisms developed through business-NGO partnerships are fundamentally flawed, as these aim to address social and environmental issues that were caused by the market system that it seeks to work with. As such, market-based approaches mobilizing CSR, while trying to offer an alternative to the current logic of global markets, are not challenging powerful industrial and retailer interests, but simply “capitalism with a human face” [65], [92] (p. 1064), [93]. The second debate on NGO-business partnerships is that, given their focus on market solutions, their ability to improve complex social-ecological problems is limited to market sensitive or ‘hot’ issues, potentially neglecting wider issues such as unequal power relationships in value chains. The third and last debate concerns the effectiveness of these partnerships for driving sustainable change [2]. Thus, NGO-business partnerships hold some potential for developing standards and implementing improvements, however this may be limited by the extent to which those partnerships are inclusive of small-holders and developing world stakeholders, mobilize producers by creating the right incentives though transparency and accountability, and address the root of the problems they seek to address.

4.5. Public Policy: Engaging Government

Despite the growing influence of private actors in the governance of fisheries, and a shift of power away from the nation-state towards private actors, the responsibility for managing fisheries remains a public affair. Indeed, several companies stated engaging with policy makers and regulators with regards to improving fisheries regulations either directly (e.g., industry councils) or through multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g., FIPs, ISSF). This type of engagement is likely motivated by companies have fishing quotas in these fisheries and/or the desire to obtain or maintain MSC certification [94]. What we then find is not a ‘pure’ form of private governance, but rather “a ‘mixed’ regime, where the boundary between public and private spheres is blurred” [95] (p. 295) and where public and private actors have become inter-dependent in order to achieve the necessary changes [63]. Furthermore, government engagement can be pre-competitive, as seen by several companies who reported working with other seafood companies to promote sustainable fisheries management. Indeed, there has been a recent increase in pre-competitive platforms to engage with regulators (but not mentioned by companies in this study), such as SFP’s supplier roundtables, the International Pole-and-Line Foundation (IPNLF) and the Global Tuna Forum. In the case of tuna, several companies stated attending RFMO meetings, but how these companies engage with regulators in these meetings remains unclear.
It was surprising not to see more companies engaging with government on human and labour rights issues, as these issues largely fall under the very jurisdiction of governments. It may be that companies merely report that they are complying with national labour legislation, and are not required by their buyers to work with governments on lifting up that legislation. Reflecting on the impacts and effectiveness of seafood companies engaging with governments is difficult. In the context of our study, the information collected did not reveal how and to what extent companies engage with policy makers. For instance, companies may just send letters, either individually or as a part of coalitions with other businesses, or companies might regularly meet with policy makers to discuss issues, and work on implementing solutions. How companies engage with regulators and policy-makers may also depend on their network and political leverage with governments.

4.6. Philanthropy & Awareness

Philanthropic activities such as donations to local organizations, community events, employee volunteering and disaster relief, were found to be common approaches to community engagement. Indeed, these types of activities are often not directly related to the bottom line, but rather can help build trusting relationships with local communities, improving reputation and securing a license to operate [30,96]. In case of consumer-facing companies, philanthropy may be part of a marketing strategy that may encourage consumers to choose their product [55].
Some philanthropic activities are more strategic, such as supporting education programs related to seafood production, which may directly benefit companies by creating a pool of potential employees (i.e., may still be part of a broader business case) [97]. However, many of the philanthropic programs observed in this study consist of one-time donations or annual events, rather than sustained donations to an organization. Therefore, corporate philanthropy may be an effective way for building and maintaining a social licence to operate, and acceptance by local communities, but less so for solving broad social and environmental issues that require a long-term approach and continuous improvement.

5. Conclusions

Our study shows that, as a result of growing stakeholder and market expectations, large global seafood companies make claims to implement and engage in a number of social and environmental improvements through CSR. At the same time, new sustainability demands involve fewer tangible outcomes and issues that may be beyond a company’s control, such as socio-economic development of local communities and sustainable fisheries management, for which companies need to find new ways to contribute and demonstrate progress. Seafood companies seem to approach CSR in a variety of ways, from using their purchasing power to transform practices in their supply chains, to making improvements to their own practices, working in partnerships with NGOs and other businesses to develop private standards and implement improvements, engaging with regulators, and making philanthropic donations to charities and local community organizations. All these approaches have the potential to positively affect their bottom line, while at the same time improving the social and environmental conditions in their supply chains, and the industry as a whole.
By providing an initial review of how the sustainable seafood movement market-based approach has influenced the CSR practices of large seafood suppliers, our results provide an opportunity for CSR practitioners in the seafood industry to reflect on the effectiveness of private governance mechanisms to address environmental and social issues. One of the biggest gaps we found is the lack accountability and accounting of impacts. Therefore, given the support for and expected potential of voluntary and market-based approaches to improvements, more robust accountability, we see that accounting and reporting mechanisms need to be developed to ensure that CSR, and especially CSR at the middle of the supply chain (i.e., the less visible companies, yet whose participation is essential), contributes to sustainable development. For companies to make those improvements, further research is needed to understand the positioning of those companies in global value chains and production networks, how much power they have to contribute to sustainable development and how they can be incentivized to do so. Moreover, a better theoretical understanding of the social, environmental and economic elements is needed to demonstrate how social and environmental externalities can have be detrimental to economic activities in the long term, thus demonstrating a more comprehensive business case. This also relates to the on-going research in social and environmental accounting methodologies.
The lack of specific, measurable time-bound commitments is concerning, especially because industries generally look at top tier companies as leaders in new business models and strategies, including those that take into account environmental and social issues. It is unclear why so few of the seafood companies reviewed had set specific objectives, and have trouble walking the talk of CSR. While we are aware that this study was limited to whatever information these companies chose to make public, one possible explanation may be the lack of methodology available to companies to measure and quantify their social and environmental impacts. Another possible explanation may be the lack of will, meaning that investments in CSR may be limited by how much companies are rewarded (i.e., the business case) for it through market incentives and improved reputation.
As the CSR movement tries to re-embed companies by acting as a form of social regulation and to develop expectations for companies to contribute to wider development goals, it is important that the right incentives are provided by developing improved accountability and rewarding mechanisms that go beyond the market. There is great potential for pre-competitive business platforms to have a large sustainability impact by normalizing CSR practices, and moving them through to public policy.
Once taken up as policy, the ‘voluntary’ nature of the practice disappears, no longer rendering it as part of the CSR space. In this way, the scope for CSR should actually become smaller, while that which we currently see today is an expansion of the CSR scope. Regulating seafood companies on social and environmental aspects through CSR may not only require creating a better business case, but also ensure that companies have CSR processes in place, such as internal CSR governance processes. This might go against the CSR philosophy of self-regulation, but may be the only way to hold companies accountable in a democratic way (i.e., not through the market). There is no doubt that seafood companies must take part in developing a sustainable fisheries industry. The emergence of governance networks where companies work increasingly closely with civil society and government actors hold great potential for solving complex environmental problems, as it incorporates actors from different sectors, and provides an innovative environment for learning, allowing for the development of effective and adaptive governance. However, as these governance networks develop, we must ensure that private corporate interests (including non-consumer-facing companies) align with public interests through the creation of a wider business case that aims for long-term sustainability, and goes beyond short-term market incentives.

Supplementary Materials

The following are available online at

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, H.P., W.S. and Y.O.; methodology, H.P., W.S. and M.B.; validation, W.S. and M.B.; formal analysis, H.P.; investigation, H.P.; data curation, H.P.; writing—original draft preparation, H.P.; writing—review and editing, W.S., Y.O. and M.B; visualization, H.P., W.S. and Y.O.; project administration, H.P.; supervision, M.B.; funding acquisition, H.P. and M.B.


The Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Canada provided funding for this project, in particular to H.P. through the NSERC CREATE Transatlantic Ocean System Science and Technology (TOSST) grant.


The authors would like to thank Weishan Wang for the English translation of the websites and reports of the Chinese companies.

Conflicts of Interest

The lead author, H.P., works for a North American seafood importer (Anova Food USA) which is a subsidiary company of Bumble Bee Seafoods, one of the 25 companies assessed in this study. However, Anova Food USA and Bumble Bee Seafoods had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results. All other authors declare no conflict of interests. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.


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Figure 1. Four-step analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the wild seafood industry.
Figure 1. Four-step analysis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in the wild seafood industry.
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Figure 2. CSR governance framework and communication.
Figure 2. CSR governance framework and communication.
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Figure 3. CSR objectives, monitoring and transparency.
Figure 3. CSR objectives, monitoring and transparency.
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Figure 4. CSR practices and activities.
Figure 4. CSR practices and activities.
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Table 1. Internal CSR governance criteria (step 1).
Table 1. Internal CSR governance criteria (step 1).
CSR capacityThe company has staff or committee(s) in place to manage CSR issues
CSR accountabilityThe company consults and engages with stakeholders through a formal or informal process
CSR visionEnvironmental and social responsibilities are embedded in corporate vision
Table 2. Key CSR issues in the wild capture fisheries (step 2).
Table 2. Key CSR issues in the wild capture fisheries (step 2).
General environment Includes impacts related to fishing and processing activities such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, waste, pollution and water use.
Sustainable fisheriesIncludes aspects related to stock status, science-based fisheries management (including IUU related issues) and ecosystem impacts.
Human rights and labour practicesIncludes aspects related to recruitment practices, working agreements, working conditions, respect of human rights, fair wages and health and safety.
Community engagement Includes aspects related to the sharing of resources and benefits with local communities, providing employment and investing in local facilities, dealing with resource-use conflicts that arise with local communities, actively engaging with communities to build long-term relationships and improve the lives of communities surrounding company operations.
Table 3. UN Global Compact Principles [28].
Table 3. UN Global Compact Principles [28].
Human RightsPrinciple 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally-proclaimed human rights
Principle 2: Make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses
LabourPrinciple 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
Principle 4: The elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour
Principle 5: The effective abolition of child labour
Principle 6: The elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation
EnvironmentPrinciple 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges
Principle 8: Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility
Principle 9: Encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.
Anti-CorruptionPrinciple 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery
Table 4. Four criteria to assess how companies set objectives and monitor progress for each CSR issue (step 3).
Table 4. Four criteria to assess how companies set objectives and monitor progress for each CSR issue (step 3).
IntentThe company expresses a general intent to address or take into consideration this issue (e.g., we consider, we strive to, we intend to)
Specific targetsThe company sets specific, measurable and timebound targets.
MonitoringThe company monitors its improvement in relation to this issue.
Transparent reportingThe company discloses its impacts and progress publicly.
Table 5. Five categories of CSR strategy used to analyze CSR practices in the wild seafood industry (step 4).
Table 5. Five categories of CSR strategy used to analyze CSR practices in the wild seafood industry (step 4).
POWER (supply chain control)Supply chain control activities consists of “asking downstream actors to do the job” through instruments such as codes of conduct, sourcing policies, 1st, 2nd and 3rd party audits.
Supplier code of conduct
Supplier 1st, 2nd and 3rd party audit against a code of conduct or an independent (certification) standard.
The procurement department includes supplier performance in their purchasing decisions.
PRACTICES (internal improvements)Changes in internal practices and processes through codes of conduct, internal policies, certification, eco-efficiency measures, social audits and continuous improvement projects.
PARTNERSHIP(S)Partnerships with private actors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientists and/or other industry actors (e.g., International Sustainable Seafood Foundation). Such partnerships include activities such as advising, developing standards, supporting research projects and government advocacy.
PUBLIC POLICY (guiding government)Guiding government includes governments adopting private sustainability programs, co-implementation of development projects and engagement in developing regulations and policies.
PHILANTRHOPY (philanthropy and awareness)Philanthropic and awareness activities consist in monetary donations to local organizations, schools and charities, employee volunteering, and also organizing community events to raise environmental and social awareness.
Table 6. List of the largest 25 seafood companies’ characteristics (adapted from Undercurrent, 2017) including value chain activities (F: Fishing, P: Processing, I/D: Importing and/or Distribution, B/M: Branding and/or Marketing).
Table 6. List of the largest 25 seafood companies’ characteristics (adapted from Undercurrent, 2017) including value chain activities (F: Fishing, P: Processing, I/D: Importing and/or Distribution, B/M: Branding and/or Marketing).
(in US$ million)
Value Chain Activities
FishingProcessingDistribution and/or ImportingBranding and/or marketing
11 companies (44%)23 companies (92%)19 companies (76%)14 companies (56%)
Table 7. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing general environmental issues.
Table 7. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing general environmental issues.
POWER (supply chain control)Clauses in supplier code of conducts related to environmental protection and associated audits.
PRACTICES (internal improvements)Organization for Standardization (ISO) 1400 certification and improvements related to efficient energy use and water consumption.
PARTNERSHIP(S)Partnership with recycling programs, recycling banks or research projects for eco-packaging.
PUBLIC POLICY (guiding government)None.
PHILANTRHOPY (philanthropy and awareness)Consumer awareness, local clean-up events, contribution to climate change research, employee education and funding of local environmental initiatives.
Table 8. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing sustainable fisheries issues.
Table 8. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing sustainable fisheries issues.
POWER (supply chain control)Purchasing policies that include Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of fishery improvement products (FIPs), avoiding sourcing from overfished stocks or from fisheries with high bycatch; requirement for vessels to be on the International Sustainable Seafood Foundation’s (ISSF’s) Proactive Vessel Registry (PVR); due diligence processes, such as supplier mapping and assessment.
PRACTICES (internal improvements)Improved traceability systems; for companies engaged in fishing activities: Improved fishing practices (e.g., bycatch reduction, on-board monitoring), FIPs, and obtaining MSC certification.
PARTNERSHIP(S)Partnerships with NGOs (e.g., World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Greenpeace, the International Union for Conservation of Nature), other businesses (e.g., ISSF) and scientists (e.g., SeaBos, IFREMER); multi-stakeholder partnerships (e.g., FIPs, the Sustainable Seafood Coalition, ISSF).
PUBLIC POLICY (guiding government)Engagement with governments at local, national and regional levels by participating in fishery councils, RFMO meetings and working with multi-stakeholder initiatives (e.g., FIPs) and special interest groups (e.g., pelagic freezer trawler association, ISSF). Many vague statements (e.g., “we engage with…”).
PHILANTRHOPY (philanthropy and awareness)Sustainable seafood events, financing FIPs, turtle conservation programs and private foundations.
Table 9. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing human and labour rights issues.
Table 9. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing human and labour rights issues.
POWER (supply chain control)Supplier codes of conduct with clauses based on International Labour Organization (ILO) and UN conventions to address human and labour rights issues in processing plants, accompanied by a due diligence supplier assessment process. Continuous improvement tools including Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex), the Ethical Trade Initiative and Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). Activities addressing vessel level issues were limited.
PRACTICES (internal improvements)Internal codes of conduct and policies, covering issues of ethical recruitment, training of workers in health and safety, as well as labour and human rights issues and internal monitoring and accountability systems (e.g., the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18001))
PARTNERSHIP(S)NGO partnerships (e.g., Verite, ISSARA institute, Greenpeace, WWF, Seafish, the International Justice Mission and Fishwise). One multi-stakeholder partnership to develop social standards adapted to the seafood industry: the Global Seafood Task Force.
PUBLIC POLICY (guiding government)General statements “we are working with…”.
PHILANTRHOPY (philanthropy and awareness)Awareness raising at seafood conferences, public campaigns to raise awareness on human rights issues and donations to human rights focused NGOs.
Table 10. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing community engagement issues.
Table 10. Summary table of common CSR activities addressing community engagement issues.
POWER (supply chain control)None.
PRACTICES (internal improvements)Employee development and services, providing jobs to local communities, employee engagement and promotion of diversity.
PARTNERSHIP(S)Partnership with NGOs that work in community development (e.g., Save the Children, Jambo Bukoba), provide access to renewable energy and support to marginalized communities (e.g., Greenland).
PUBLIC POLICY (guiding government)None.
PHILANTRHOPY (philanthropy and awareness)Donations to local charities, employee volunteering activities and contributions to cultural institutions and events.

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Packer, H.; Swartz, W.; Ota, Y.; Bailey, M. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Practices of the Largest Seafood Suppliers in the Wild Capture Fisheries Sector: From Vision to Action. Sustainability 2019, 11, 2254.

AMA Style

Packer H, Swartz W, Ota Y, Bailey M. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Practices of the Largest Seafood Suppliers in the Wild Capture Fisheries Sector: From Vision to Action. Sustainability. 2019; 11(8):2254.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Packer, Helen, Wilf Swartz, Yoshitaka Ota, and Megan Bailey. 2019. "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Practices of the Largest Seafood Suppliers in the Wild Capture Fisheries Sector: From Vision to Action" Sustainability 11, no. 8: 2254.

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