The second comprehensive study of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition’s (SSC) Codes of Conduct shows the impact the Codes are having on responsible sourcing and labelling amongst SSC members.
The SSC is a group of leading retailers, foodservice providers, suppliers and producers of seafood in the UK, with a shared vision that all fish and seafood sold in the UK be from sustainable sources. They have several aims to promote this, including subscribing to the voluntary SSC Codes of Conduct on seafood sourcing and environmental claims.
The Sourcing Code seeks to ensure consumers can be confident that the seafood they buy meets or exceeds minimum standards of responsibility, while the Labelling Code seeks to create harmonised seafood labelling that will provide consumers with accurate information on the provenance and sustainability of the fish or seafood.
Every three years, an independent implementation report is conducted to access the success of the SSC model, and the consistency with which the Codes are being implemented. This year’s report was written by team Charmelian, a collaboration between Melanie Siggs, Charlotte Tindall and Iain Pollard. You can read it here.
The implementation report found very high alignment with SSC codes. It analysed the 27 commercially-active members that have been members of the SSC for more than one year. This includes companies such as Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and M&S. The report found that among these members:
- 96% have sourcing policies in line with the Sourcing Code, while 56% have publically available sourcing policies;
- 88% of risk assessments meet the Sourcing Code;
- 100% meet responsibility claims on their own labelled products, while 91% meet sustainability claims on their own labelled products per the Labelling Code;
- And 93% have improvement plans for farms, while 95% have improvement plans for fisheries.
It’s clear that SSC members are engaging all along their supply chains to improve sustainability of their farmed and wild-caught sources. Over 90% of members include their seafood products in the scope of the SSC Sourcing and Labelling Codes, meaning they apply the Codes to their own-brand seafood products and apply risk assessment processes accordingly. And where products fall into high-risk categories, members have shown they are engaging in proactive improvement measures.
Responsible sourcing and risk assessments
96% of members were found to have sourcing policies that were in line with the SSC Sourcing Code, which is commendable. The sourcing policies of many members link to their risk assessments, which all members undertake as part of SSC guidance to identify problematic areas in their supply chains.
The report found that most members undertake their risk assessments annually, if not more often. Risk assessment reviews vary, but often include checking sustainability progress against audits or fishery improvement plans, as well as assessing scientific advice.
These risk assessments have played a big role in improving responsible sourcing practices. The report notes clear examples given by members of times when a seafood product was not sourced due to the risks assessed as part of the SSC Code.
While responsible sourcing has become a best practice, just over half of members are making their sourcing information public – with an additional 13% offering partial information. As data collection and risk assessments become more standardised, the report recommends that this information become more transparent over time.
Fishery improvements and traceability
The majority of SSC members mentioned their work to improve sustainable fishery practices, with one member engaging with as many as 20 improvement projects. The report notes that collaboration between SSC members and the places where they source seafood products is key to building sustainability along the supply chain.
Traceability is also a focal area where members are actively working together, alongside different actors. Digital traceability systems are becoming more prominent, so members have an impetus to benchmark their existing tools and make the switch to digital ones.
Digital traceability improvements even include developing graphics illustrating key points on the supply-chain journey, to encourage public knowledge and transparency.
Advocacy and measuring impact
In addition to ensuring adherence to the SSC Codes – what are the emerging areas for improvement?
The report suggests that the SSC has potential to bring more leverage to issues of shared importance through increased advocacy efforts.
An example of this happening already was with the North Atlantic Pelagic Advocacy (NAPA) group, set up because of SSC member collaboration. In 2020, SSC members met with the UK pelagic fishery industry to explain the Codes and to find a solution for maintaining sourcing. As a result, the SSC played an important role in starting the fishery improvement efforts.
Another suggested area for growth is improving ways to measure impact more concretely. This would include establishing causal effects on environmental improvements, to help establish where additional and larger impacts could occur.
As SSC members conduct more streamlined assessment reports and increased data collection, along with digital traceability improvements, new ways to measure impact will certainly be possible.
The 2020 implementation report offers many highlights for existing best practices, and places where we see members investing increased attention as they work to improve both their sourcing and labelling practices, along their supply chains.
Together, these Codes will continue to act as tools for change – and this report will help guide us towards the next step of fulfilling SSC members’ shared vision: towards an entire UK seafood industry that is from sustainable sources.