AP Report Reveals Slavery In Seafood Supply Chain
A recent report from The Associated Press revealed the results of a year-long investigation: slavery within the seafood industry supply chain that provides some of the most wide spread producers in the US with fish.
Tainted fish can wind up in the supply chains of some of America’s major grocery stores, such as Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway; the nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; and the biggest food distributor, Sysco. It can find its way into the supply chains of some of the most popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. It can turn up as calamari at fine dining restaurants, as imitation crab in a California sushi roll or as packages of frozen snapper relabeled with store brands that land on our dinner tables.
This recent insight into the fishing industry’s supply chain may come as big shock to you, but the truth is this is a common thread among most industries today. The nature of our capitalist economy has led to seemingly drastic measures by suppliers to meet demand in a competitive market. As consumers we search for the best deals, often choosing the least expensive products available. What we don’t realize, is that to make such a bargain, producers and suppliers have to cut corners.
How can a 44 piece box of fish sticks cost $3.44 at Walmart? The fish was probably caught in Alaska or Asia, processed in Thailand and then shipped all the way to your local store in the US. It doesn’t take much effort to see that the true cost of these fish sticks is not reflected in their price. There are external costs we pay as a society in lieu (unfair labor, overfishing, environmental degradation, pollution, to name a few). Investigative reports like this give us a little more insight into exactly who is paying the difference.
The underlying issue here is that consumers are so far separated from the source of their food (and almost all products) that they don’t see the consequences of their purchases. How is an everyday shopper supposed to know where the fish in his/her cat food originated?
When an investigative report such as this is revealed we are all so shocked and upset by it. Most of us feel that we have been wronged by the companies who source such unethical resources and if we knew the truth about our seafood we would buy more ethical and sustainably sourced seafood. Even if we wanted to shop sustainably though, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s expensive, there aren’t as many options, and there is so much greenwashing that it’s difficult to discern what is truly sustainable and ethical. Most people don’t have the time or resources to research every product they buy and find an alternative.
-This is the inspiration for our current project – Earth Accounting
The problem is even more complex. Many corporations are actively “cleaning up” their supply chains and setting goals for themselves in an act of CSR, but supply chains have grown so large and complex that this is increasingly a monumental task. Even as companies try to source their supply sustainably they have a hard time, as this CEO of Stavis Seafoods expresses:
“The truth is, these are the kind of things that keep you up at night,” said CEO Richard Stavis, who grandfather started the company. He said his business visits international processors, requires notarized certification of legal practices and uses third-party audits.
“There are companies like ours that care and are working as hard as they can,” he said.
According to this CEO, even after such efforts there are still suppliers who fall through the cracks. But there ARE successful third parties that certify ethical trade and sustainable production. That’s exactly what fair trade eco labels do. And they do it well, maintaining enough validity to turn a profit and stay in business.
Fair trade eco labels such as Fair Trade International prove it’s possible to have sustainable and ethical supply chains in our food industries. Eco labels have become more popular as consumers find solace in their certifications, but they are really only applicable to a small percentage of consumer goods so far and unfortunately it isn’t as easy as it should be to understand exactly what each eco label certification means. All eco labels have different and often complex qualification standards which can be confusing. However difficult to fully understand, a product with an eco label is more sustainable than one without which does improve the shopping experience of ever wary consumers.
This immense gap between consumer and source, and lack of transparency within supply chains is the problem Earth Accounting is actively working to solve. Eco labels are doing a great job to bridge the gap and with the amount of data and technology available to us today we think we can provide a tool to make sustainable shopping for consumers much easier. We believe we have the solution and we are working to make it a reality.
Read more about Earth Accounting to see how our mobile app and web extension can provide consumers with the information they need to make sustainable and ethical choices.