Seafood Industry Must Respond to “Immense” Pressures – SENA16

I think the pressures that that this industry is undergoing are immense…. You’ve got a situation in which demand for this product–for seafood–is growing. The stocks of this product are at risk. You’ve got a very socially aware and picky consumer. And the nature of the product and the nature of the supply chain is such that it is globalized and dispersed and outside of easy oversight by government and those who are well intentioned regulators. And the nature of much of the work in this industry is low skill and high risk. So there’s a lot of exposure here.

-Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School during SENA16 Keynote Address

The Seafood Expo North America (SENA16) kicked off with a keynote presentation from Professor of Law Kent Greenfield that firmly grounded this year’s conference in questions around corporate social responsibility. As I blogged yesterday, the idea of responsibility–corporate, societal and personal–is my own focus for my SENA16 coverage, so I found Greenfield’s keynote particularly engaging.

When addressing the problems the seafood industry faces, Greenfield suggested the industry has a choice. It can maintain the status quo, which he said could perhaps work for a period of years before, essentially, imploding on itself (my words), or it can act collectively to address challenges on the resources front, the labor front and the consumer front.

Greenfield challenged some traditional notions of corporate social responsibility, saying that a business’ social responsibility should be to sustain the business over the long term. Corporate social responsibility is not, at least ostensibly, about charity, conservation or pet projects, although these things may certainly be a natural byproduct of a successful business. Put another way, it is not a seafood company’s job to save the oceans, but a successful seafood business will take care of the resource as part of a fundamental business management tool.

Greenfield told the audience the phrase “sustainable stakeholder governance” may be a better, more accurate term than corporate social responsibility. To achieve corporate social responsibility, Greenfield said, a business must focus squarely on the resource, the employees and the customers.

Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, delivered SENA16's keynote address.

Kent Greenfield, Professor of Law and Dean’s Research Scholar at Boston College Law School, delivered SENA16’s keynote address.

While the seafood industry is not Greenfield’s area of expertise, he recognizes many of the risks and exposures the industry faces. At a time when human rights abuses in seafood supply chains have garnered so much attention, it’s relevant that Greenfield was instrumental in developing the theory of the cases brought against Unocal Corporation for alleged human rights violations committed by the company in Burma and against Hershey Corporation for the alleged use of child labor in West Africa. Greenfield is considered one of the world’s leading legal experts in the field of corporate accountability and the analysis of the role of corporations in society.

Greenfield’s take-home message to the seafood industry during his keynote address at SENA16 was that individual business need to focus on sustainable stakeholder governance and then individual businesses need to work together. Thinking about seafood businesses as having a primarily ethical or altruistic obligation to society gets it wrong, he argued.

The seafood industry’s biggest challenges today arise in the spheres of the environment, consumer safety and health, and human and worker rights. At SENA16, we see all of these issues discussed, and I suspect we will increasingly hear “traceability” jump to the forefront as a dominant topic, As the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Tejas Bhatt put it in another session today, “traceability is a foundation for so many of the issues in the seafood industry…. Traceability is not the answer; it is the first step to collecting data to understand the problem.” Bhatt is the Director for the Global Food Traceability Center (GFTC) at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

According to show organizers, more than 1,260 companies from 50 countries are exhibiting at SENA16, making this the largest Seafood Expo North America in the show’s 36-year history. The conference program, which accompanies the show, will feature more than 20 educational sessions presented by seafood industry experts and thought leaders representing all segments of the seafood supply chain. The conference is divided into three concurrently running tracks: Seafood Sustainability, Seafood Business & Marketplace and Seafood Food Safety & Compliance/Policy. Stay tuned for more coverage from me at www.GoodCatchBlog.com, on Facebook and, live from the event, on Twitter (Twitter.com/RetTalbot) using #SENA16.

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About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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