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Retailers strive to build trust with consumers for their brands and banner. This is why virtually all major U.S. and European banners have adopted sustainability policies for sourcing seafood, and for many other products as well.
What happens when these policies are violated, or when they fail? How should retail seafood buyers react?
When an individual company fails to meet specifications and ships deficient products, the answer is easy: the load is rejected, and if the problems continue, the supplier is dropped by the retailer.
But for problems that can’t be detected in a shipment – such as whether the item was produced in a sustainable manner; whether it was produced with acceptable labor practices; or whether it was legally caught – retailers need more than their ability to reject suppliers.
They have demanded their suppliers get third-party assurances and meet standards set by such organizations as the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). And they have demanded traceability so they can be confident about the origin of their products.
Seafood is the most heavily traded international food commodity, according to the WTO; the U.S. imported seafood from 113 countries in 2015.
No retailer can monitor its supply chain for abuse of labor standards across all these countries. Instead, they must rely on certifications, such as GAA’s Best Aquaculture Practices for Shrimp.
Thailand is one of the largest shrimp and tuna exporters in the world, and also exports a range of other food commodities from rice to fruits, including canned and dried fruit.
It's also a country with structural problems that lead to abuse: undocumented migration and businesses that rely on immigrants who are ethnically different than the Thai population. The situation is the same in many other countries, from the Middle East to Europe, and even in some parts of the U.S.
So when a major story from The Associated Press on forced labor and slavery – where workers are bought and sold, and unable to voluntarily leave – hits the public, they naturally question whether their store is tainted by this problem.
Trust But Verify
However, simple denial is not enough. The banner has to extend its umbrella of trust to its major shrimp suppliers.