By: Joanna Ewart-James
This is the republication of the foreword to the report published by Human Rights at Sea entitled “Does it Do what it says on the Tin? Fisheries and Aquaculture Certification, Standards and Ratings Ecosystem: An Independent Review 1.0” available here.
As consumers we are led to believe we hold the power to ensure the goods we buy are not harmful to humans and the planet. In classic economics, companies simply supply what the market demands. We are ‘the market’ and it is the market that sets the price. And we are increasingly aware, in this information age, that price goes far beyond the ticket on the shelf. It’s not just what’s in the tin, but how it got there – the husbandry, the working conditions, the production process. The outcome? A plethora of labels of various certification schemes aimed at meeting that demand. But do these labels really address the true cost and help empower consumers to leverage their purchases to get what they want?
This much-needed data-driven examination of labels – certification standards – within the fisheries industry shows that all is not what it might seem. It demonstrates the complexity of a solution based on voluntary standards, beginning with the plethora of schemes, each with its own criteria, inconsistent both in mandate, assessment process and enforcement. The existence of such a report, on just one industry, indicates just how unrealistic it is as a means for consumers to understand the true cost of a product and exercise our purchasing power accordingly.
Certification stamps do little to empower consumers to leverage their purchase influence, particularly if their concerns are forced labour. For consumers willing to be proactive to avoid complicity in exploitation, this report shows that the knowledge, time, and analysis needed to assess the meaning of labels on products in an average grocery store basket, from fish to flowers, cotton products to cocoa. The weight of the task at hand undermines any good intentions claimed by such schemes.
This report makes clear that consumers cannot be expected to carry the weight of ensuring their purchasing decisions are not tainted by human rights abuses. It underpins the frustration with voluntary principles and the growing calls for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation across the economy, to set a true baseline of what we agree are international minimum standards, that are then built upon for a future world economy that puts people and the planet above profit.
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