To what extent is documentation of social sustainability a market requirement and what sort of schemes should the industry aim for? This is what the researchers will find out. Photo: Frank Gregersen © Nofima

Investigating requirements for social sustainability in the value chain for wild fish

From 2017, all British vessels that supply to the supermarket chain Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom must be certified by the Responsible Fishing Scheme. Perhaps more players in the market will follow and require documentation of social sustainability? This is what researchers at Nofima and FAFO are about to find out.

This article was last updated more than two years ago.

“The Norwegian Seafood Research Fund (FHF) has been asked by the industry to identify standards for social sustainability and to evaluate whether customers in the seafood market require documentation of social sustainability . They also wish to investigate whether and how the Norwegian seafood industry can utilise good working conditions as a competitive advantage, and if this can be documented in Norwegian fisheries,” summarises Pirjo Honkanen at Nofima.

She is in charge of the Consumer and Marketing research Department and is also leading this project.

The project commenced in December last year and will run until 15 May 2017.

Together with colleague Bjørg Helen Nøstvold from Nofima and Anne Mette Ødegård from the research institute FAFO, Honkanen will clarify the current status in the markets. They will identify existing standards and certification schemes, analyse the contents of these and evaluate the relevance of the various schemes when it comes to the Norwegian catch-based fishing industry.

They will primarily focus on the markets in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Forced labour uncovered

“The background to this international focus is that serious human rights violations were uncovered some time ago on fishing vessels in South-East Asia, especially in Thailand. Forced labour and abuse were found to take place. Social sustainability has therefore also been put on the agenda among retailers in Europe and this will also be reflected in the requirements applicable to the Norwegian fishing industry,” Honkanen explains.

She notes that Norwegian fishing industry already operates under strict regulations and that no serious violations have been reported in Norway so far. The researchers will evaluate the Norwegian regulations in comparison with the international certification schemes. What does Norway already comply with and what might be required to obtain international approval?

In the United Kingdom, as an example, there is a scheme called the “Responsible Fishing Scheme,” which Marks & Spencer has undertaken to implement as a requirement for its suppliers. The supermarket chain utilises this as part of its marketing.

Could it become a market requirement?

The project will investigate whether requirements concerning social sustainability could become “hygiene requirements” and therefore required for manufacturers in order to secure access to the market.

“We will interview importers and representatives from the largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom, France and Germany in order to determine how they view the situation and the importance of a certification scheme for social sustainability,” the Head of Research explains.

They will also interview Norwegian exporters in order to identify the requirements they come across in this area.

Based on the results from this project, industry players will be able to make well-informed decisions with regard to certification and will be able to use the results as part of their reputational development to strengthen their position in the market. The researchers will provide an evaluation of which markets are committed to social sustainability and whether certification is required or whether other types of documentation will be sufficient.

The companies will therefore get help to determine whether to be proactive or whether they need to establish strategies to meet the requirements that already exist.

At an industrial level it will be possible to consider whether to jointly aim for an established scheme or whether it would be more beneficial to establish a national standard or whether another type of documentation would be sufficient.

“We are supported by an extremely knowledgeable reference group consisting of people from the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union, Norway Seafoods and the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association. They will be able to provide input throughout the process and, not least, to evaluate the relevance of what we find out with regard to the industry,” Honkanen says.

The research project has a funding limit of NOK 600,000.


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