Workers use motorized saws to cut fish into sections, New Zealand
Crew members on the ship’s processing line use motorized saws to cut fish into sections. (Photo released by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries under the Official Information Act.)

Corporate Responsibility
  in the Seafood Industry:
  What About People?

Banning of Foreign Chartered Vessels

The Push for Sustainability

If you’re wandering through the seafood department at your local grocery store chain, you might notice a sustainability label. Some fresh cases show a red, yellow, or green dot, indicating if a certain species is at risk of being overfished. Or you might find a Marine Stewardship Council label, indicating that this product comes from a certified fishery that prioritizes sustainability. Greenpeace’s 2011 “Carting Away the Oceans” report celebrates the progress that retailers have made in factoring sustainability into their operations. With these seals of approval, buyers gain confidence that their fish has been responsibly caught and harvested—from an ocean across the world to their local stores.

But what does a sustainability policy tell us about the people who bring these fish to our plates? These labels address environmental concerns, not the labor practices aboard fishing vessels and in processing plants. 

As the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism's E. Benjamin Skinner and Bloomberg Businessweek reveal in their article "The Fishing Industry's Cruelest Catch," even boats fishing in countries with the highest standards of sustainability may not be responsibly catching their fish, according to national and international labor practices.

A New Legal Approach: The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

In California, publishing a social responsibility report is no longer an option that gives corporations bonus points. For the first time, 3,200 companies are required by law to report what, if any, efforts they make to monitor the labor practices of their suppliers.

The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, signed into law in 2010 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, went into effect at the beginning of this year. All retailers and manufacturers whose revenue exceeds $100 million and that do business in the state of California must disclose the extent to which they: 

  • use third party verification to evaluate and address human trafficking and slavery risks in product supply chains
  • conduct independent, unannounced audits of suppliers to ensure compliance with company standards on slavery and trafficking
  • maintain internal accountability for employees and contractors failing to meet company standards on slavery and trafficking
  • provide company employees and management training on mitigating risks of slavery and trafficking in supply chains

The California legislature drafted the bill in response to the recommendations of the California Department of Justice’s 2007 Human Trafficking in California report, which states: "California bears a moral responsibility to exert leadership, through government and business purchasing practices, to implement and monitor codes of conduct assuring fair and humane labor practices throughout their supply chain." Each company must post a link to the disclosure statement on its website’s homepage. If a company does not have a website, it must provide a written copy of the disclosure upon receiving a written request from a consumer. If a company does not comply, the California Attorney General may bring an action for injunctive relief. 

Disclosure Statements from Major Retailers
Selling Seafood in the United States

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism has collected the California Transparency in Supply Chains disclosures for major retailers that sell seafood products (including companies that are not suspected of purchasing slave-caught fish from New Zealand). Where available, other documents regarding supplier labor practices are also included.




Safeway Supplier Survey   

Save Mart Supermarkets  

Trader Joe’s  


Walmart Standards for Suppliers  

Whole Foods 

Note: As of February 20, the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism had not yet been able to find disclosures for all major retailers, and wholesale clubs are not necessarily required to file disclosures under the California Supply Chain Transparency Act.

Last page update: May 22, 2012