Seafood Alliance Urges Businesses to Accelerate Human Rights, Environmental Safeguards

Ryan Bigelow, Director of Projects for the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions (with microphone) speaking during a panel session at the Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit 2023.

Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions issues its proposed guidance for corporate sustainability commitments to ensure the well-being of both people and the planet.

In the wake of new investigations uncovering forced labor in the seafood sector in India, China and North Korea, a leading industry group is urging supermarkets, restaurants, and other businesses to accelerate efforts to eradicate human and labor rights abuses from their supply chains.

To aid companies in initiating or expediting their efforts, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions on April 11 introduced a set of guidelines, measures and resources that it says addresses the well-being of both people and the planet.

Released in advance of the world’s largest seafood industry gathering, the Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona on April 23-25, “The Guidance for Companies on Environmentally and Socially Responsible Seafood” marks the first time that the 16-year-old Alliance is calling on the industry to prioritize the “human factor” across its supply chains, including ensuring fair wages, safe and humane working conditions and equitable opportunities for workers.

“Whether your company is just beginning this journey or has already made progress, this document will guide, support, and enhance your efforts,” the 34-page document states in part. “In addition, as our understanding of environmental and social sustainability evolves, this document and related resources will too.”

A seafood industry worker in San Carlos, Mexico. Photo commissioned by Carlos Anguilera.

“The latest human and labor rights investigations confirm that the industry is facing a sea change,” Conservation Alliance Project Director Ryan Bigelow said. “While progress is being made, it’s clear that it’s time for the industry to meet this issue with the urgency it deserves.”

“Prioritizing human rights alongside conservation is not just the right thing to do; it’s the best thing companies can do to future-proof their businesses from consumer backlash and reputational damage,” he added.

Companies of all sizes—from mass market retailers to family-owned sushi restaurants—Bigelow remarked, have the power to apply pressure on suppliers, spur reforms and create new markets, models, and supply chains that safeguard workers and the environment.

The Alliance represents more than 150 seafood companies, including Bumble Bee and Nestle Purina, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and environment and human rights experts across 30 countries.

In North America, over 20 of the top 25 retailers, including Costco, Kroger, Target and Aldi have sustainable seafood partnerships with non-profits within the Alliance.

Five Components

The five pillars of the Alliance’s “Guidance for Companies” are:

Identify, collect and assess the environmental and social impacts of your company and supply chain.

“You’ll need to create a process to identify, collect data on, and assess the environmental and social impacts of your company and supply chain,” the Guidance states. “Once you have this information and data, you can prioritize your work based on risk, impacts (actual and potential), and business priorities.”

Plan your vision, goals, targets, and corresponding action plans.

“Once you understand your current risks and impacts,” the Guidance states, “you should define or refine your company’s vision, goals, and targets for environmentally and socially responsible seafood.”

Implement your action plans.

Implement your action plans to prevent, mitigate and remediate the actual or potential impacts of your company and supply chain, the Guidance states, adding that there may be legal or other circumstances that require you to stop certain purchases or activities.

“Based on the priorities you defined for your company, work toward improvements in your spheres of influence: direct, indirect, advocacy, and collaboration,” it states.

Monitor and report progress and outcomes.

Monitoring occurs alongside implementation because understanding your effectiveness is critical to understanding when you need to adjust and revisit your priorities, targets, action plans, etc., the document states.

Refine and Iterate your journey to environmentally and socially responsible seafood.

“You’ll need to regularly refine and iterate your journey to environmentally and socially responsible seafood,” according to the Guidance. “Indeed, your due diligence approach will evolve as successes, failures, challenges and opportunities occur.”

A fisherman in the Gulf of California. Photo commissioned by Carlos Anguilera.

Complex Supply Chains

The world’s most widely traded food commodity, seafood involves complex supply chains, often passing through multiple intermediaries and countries before reaching the consumer.

It is especially vulnerable to exploitation since the majority of operations take place in remote, high-seas areas, far removed from regulatory oversight, or in countries like India and China where auditing firms have limited ability to effectively monitor supply chains.

With forced labor generating $236 billion in illegal profits annually—a sharp increase from $64 billion in 2014—the European Union recently moved closer to joining the U.S. in banning products made with forced labor.

The Alliance’s “Guidance for Companies” offers a toolkit and checklists for businesses that include a due diligence model companies can use to identify, assess, and mitigate human rights and environmental risks in their operations and supply chains based on globally accepted frameworks.

Additionally, it provides nearly 100 actionable resources for companies to inform their work and measure progress, including sustainable seafood commitments made by dozens of companies like Aldi and PepsiCo, along with 45 real-world examples demonstrating how businesses of various sizes and types across seafood supply chains, including retailers, restaurants and fish co-ops, have successfully implemented steps to protect the ocean, people, and communities. 

Bigelow said the Guidance is critical to reaching the Alliance’s 2030 goal:
at least 75% of global seafood production should be environmentally responsible or make verifiable improvements, with safeguards in place to ensure social responsibility. As of 2023, about 46% of the industry is progressing steadily.

To achieve these goals, he stressed the importance of more companies beginning their efforts and those already committed embracing broader, more transparent processes.

The development of the guidance involved collaboration with a working group comprising leading industry experts, practitioners, and academics from organizations such as FishWise, Seafood Watch and New England Seafoods.

“Achieving environmentally and socially responsible seafood is a journey that requires transparent and accountable efforts from all businesses in the supply chain,” the Guidance states in part. “By conducting due diligence, you can identify and prepare for any potential environmental or social impacts your operations and supply chain may cause.”

The Alliance’s Global Hub is an international community of organizations and subject area experts working to change the way seafood gets from boats and farms to plates. The Global Hub is open to any organization, group, business, academic institution, or individual expert working toward the Alliance’s vision of a world with an abundance of seafood where workers, communities and the ocean all thrive.

Formed in 2008, the Alliance connects a global community of NGOs, seafood businesses, academics, and other experts representing over 150 organizations across 30 countries with the resources and support needed to make progress.

The Alliance has said that it has sustainable seafood partnerships with more than 80% of the top 25 retailers with non-profits in North America. The Alliance’s stated vision is of a world with an abundance of seafood in an environment where workers, communities and our ocean can all thrive.    

The Alliance’s full “Guidance for Companies” document can be seen  and downloaded at

Mark Edward Nero can be reached at