Your Seafood: Now Fair Trade Certified

Hayunan Wangse flys a kite with a fishing lure that mimics a flying fish on the surface , 11th July 2014, Waepure, Buru Isand, Indonesia.  He hopes 'Fair Trade' will bring improvements to his village.
Hayunan Wangse flys a kite with a fishing lure, which mimics a flying fish on the surface, on July 11, 2014 in Waepure, Buru Island, Indonesia. He hopes ‘Fair Trade’ will bring improvements to his village.

Look out Whole Foods: Safeway is pulling ahead when it comes to seafood transparency.

Whole Foods met its match when Safeway was ranked slightly ahead for seafood sustainability by Greenpeace back in 2011. Both retailers had much to celebrate when they came out with the NGO’s first ever seafood rating of “good.”

Safeway hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal in recent years, though. The company has continued to push ahead toward an audacious goal of 100 percent sustainable sourcing for all fresh and frozen seafood by the end of this year. The grocer’s latest commitment brings it up to par with your local farmers market when it comes to worker transparency.

Sustainable seafood awareness and availability have moved in leaps and bounds thanks to the hard work of organizations like Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Future of Fish. These organizations work simultaneously on consumer education and seafood supply issues to ensure that when consumers set out to make a responsible purchase, they find good product availability on the shelves. But much of that seafood advocacy work has focused on environmental issues. Social issues — from forced labor and child labor to a lack of workplace safety precautions — remain a huge area of concern worldwide. Which is why the latest partnership between Fair Trade USA and Safeway is so exciting.

On Tuesday, Safeway and Fair Trade USA announced a new partnership to bring  Fair Trade Certified seafood to North America.

Safeway shoppers in the American Northwest (including Northern California), can now find Fair Trade certified yellowfin tuna in their grocers’ freezers. The yellowfin, sold under the Natural Blue line and imported by Anova, LLC, comes from a brand new group of fishermen in the Indonesian Maluku island chain. One hundred and twenty small-scale fishermen on these islands locate and catch yellowfin using single-hook handlines attached to handmade kites. The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates yellowfin tuna caught in this manner a Good Alternative.

Now that the group is organized and can earn a premium for their product, they plan to use part of their first Fair Trade Community Development Premiums to purchase compasses to make it easier to get home in the fog.

Why organize?

While the environmental impacts of seafood are well understood, few people know the details of how unregulated fishing can harm the 200 million people who work in the seafood industry worldwide. I asked Maya Spaull, director of new category innovation at Fair Trade USA, to explain why this industry even needs Fair Trade.

She told me about slavery at sea. If you’ve heard stories about enslaved sex workers, this will likely sound familiar: Cambodian men are offered better paying jobs in Thailand and join a shipping vessel, only to discover that there are no jobs on land. Rather, they’ll be working on an IUU (illegal, unreported, unregulated) fishing vessel for 20 hours per day, facing beatings at the hands of an armed crew. “It’s truly petrifying because you are at sea,” Spaull said. “If you want to escape, your choice is to jump to death or wait until the ship eventually docks and try to escape.”

These IUU vessels fish in unregulated waters — trawling and grabbing all sorts of species to sell for whatever they can get — and represent many of the harmful fishing practices that sustainable fishery efforts are trying to eradicate.

Beyond this dire story, many fisherman and seafood workers lack access to safety equipment, tools for environmentally preferred fishing techniques and even ice to keep their catch fresh, Spaull told me. Fair Trade USA focuses on empowering fisherman to improve their situation — righting many of the environmental wrongs along with the social ones.

This new product will help Safeway reach its 2015 goal of 100 percent responsibly-caught fresh and frozen fish.  “We are pleased to add the tuna products to the other Fair Trade Certified products offered by Safeway such as O Organics coffee and pineapples from Costa Rica, said Chris Ratto, director of sustainability at Safeway.

As for what’s next, Fair Trade USA is hard at work signing up more communities to get certified in the hopes that that a broader range of Fair Trade certified seafood will become available nationwide.

Image credit: Paul Hilton

Jen Boynton

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and is currently studying to be a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in foster care She lives in San Diego with her husband and toddler overlord. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss picky eaters, the prison industrial complex or sustainability reporting methodology.

5 responses

  1. While I am glad Safeway is using Fair Trade for its Tuna, this commitment doesn’t mention SHRIMP (which is rampant with slavery, forced labor, and human trafficking), Salmon, Talapia or other fish it sources. I am not sure how Safeway can come even close to its hallow goal of 100 percent responsibly-caught fresh and frozen fish when it sources Thai and Indonesian shrimp. This is a small small step that is more for PR than real change or true human rights in my opinion.

    1. Great point! The 100% responsibly caught goal is certainly a BHAG (big, hairy audacious goal.) I think Safeway understands the situation with all seafood well enough that it didn’t undertake the goal lightly. I think that in addition to the PR boost, they understand that if they don’t act, there won’t be seafood left to sell in 50 years.

      With that said we should be on the lookout to see how they deal with the massive elephant in the room of crustaceans. It’s entirely possible that they’ll use a weak or hollow standard for shrimp in order to “comply” with their goal. But then we’ll be ready to call them out.

      In the meantime I’m totally happy to congratulate them on being the first retailer to consider human rights when it comes to seafood. Shrimp is certainly on FTUSA’s radar and I’m sure they’d love to get a shrimp farm signed up.

      1. Jen:

        I guess you just really do not get what has been pointed out to you by these two commentators. That is terrible and disappointing to say the least.

  2. While I applaud this small but important move
    in a tiny (emphasis on tiny) fresh & frozen category for Safeway, why have
    we not seen a broader category wide move for not only seafood but other high
    risk food categories whereas prevention of human trafficking is concerned?

    It concerns me that 3P often gushes green
    platitudes towards business without doing its homework in-depth almost seeming
    to skirt real sustainability news and concerns in our field. Why is that? A
    company doesn’t need to greenwash if 3P is so willing to do it for industry.

    Recently in seafood news Undercurrent a seafood
    industry periodical covered SeaWebs panel discussing Human Trafficking in the
    retail seafood category. Safeway’s Chris Ratto actually participated and did a
    less than stellar job of responding to his constituency (the audience) and his
    co panelists such as the Executive Director of the Environmental Justice
    Foundation. In fact many of us found it embarrassing as a whole for the CSR
    field just how flip SWYs responses were to the very serious violations of human
    rights in the industry taking place. Please see here:
    http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2015/02/11/tense-seaweb-human-rights-discussion-prompts-safeway-to-clarify-approach/
    It’s as though the retailer has retreated in its earlier promises/strategies to
    use third party independent auditing to clean its supply chain up?

    Furthermore, with recent investigative
    journalism highlighting the immense human rights abuses taking place in very
    popular commodities such as shrimp (a much more prevalent category item than
    the YFT (yellow fin tuna) ) I find it unsettling that 3p thinks it can make all
    encompassing recommendations to its readers and Greenpeace that Safeway has
    just made leaps and bounds and is pulling ahead in seafood? I find this very
    odd and certainly hope that Annie Leonard the recently minted Executive Director
    of GP-USA pays close attention this year to the fact that human trafficking is
    a significant issue in seafood and most retailers and brands are all but
    ignoring it. Greenpeace has worked with the Environmental Justice Foundation in
    the past to uncover human trafficking in seafood, and I hope they can do so
    again.

    One important oversight in 3Ps reporting is the
    fact the fresh YFT is such a small category item for the giant retailer, which
    recently merged with Albertson’s. A critical point for sustainability reporting
    and for consumers interested in ethical shopping is whether Safeway/Albertsons
    can carry human trafficking prevention to other category items such as shrimp.
    Safeway participates in the exact same global supply chains in shrimp as other
    retailers please review excellent work by The Guardian here:
    http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/jun/10/supermarket-prawns-thailand-produced-slave-labour

    So while YFT is a tiny category item sold at
    Safeway, I think we can give the retailer a nod for attempting something new and
    different with Fair Trade USA, however we the readers would like to know why
    Safeway/Albertsons is not conducting routine 3rd party audits across its many…
    too many categories in not only seafood but lets say Tomatoes for instance as
    well? Slavery is alive and well in Safeway’s as well as other retailers supply
    chains according to recent LA Times coverage and most shockingly Safeway and
    its peers like Kroger and Whole Foods won’t even dialog about human trafficking
    prevention in serious ways with in depth journalistic efforts exposing these
    true and hard facts in our food chain. Once again, Walmart according to the
    Times is attempting to address the situation in some manner with abusive
    suppliers. Please read here there is an entire series worth reading:
    http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-me-farm-labor-20150216-story.html

    A very long response, my apologies for that but green sheening over this topic is unacceptable. However, I really hope 3P can work a little harder to peel back the layers of human rights abuses in supply chains. Again I applaud this tiny move in a tiny category item like yellowfin tuna, but I think stating that “Sustainable seafood
    awareness and availability have moved in leaps and bounds thanks to the hard
    work of organizations like Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay
    Aquarium” is a flat out exaggeration by 3P because neither NGO focuses on
    issues of human trafficking in supply chains, and 3P is perpetuating a false
    hood by stating this and also throwing such large accolades towards this retailer. The facts do not support this amount of applause and shallow journalism statements such as “Safeway hasn’t taken its foot off the gas pedal in recent years, though. The company has continued to push ahead toward an audacious goal of 100 percent sustainable sourcing for all fresh and frozen seafood by the end of this year. The grocer’s latest commitment brings it up to par with your local farmers market when it comes to worker transparency.”

    Infact I think Laura Germino who represented the Coalition of Immokalee Workers laid out perfectly in 2013 just how poorly Safeway is doing on the issue of human trafficking on a panel entitled “Trafficking in the Supply Chain” Please read or watch here: “Unfortunately, the joint panel participation didn’t result in a dramatic breakthrough with Safeway signing a Fair Food agreement before the evening was finished (not that anyone was holding his or her breath…). In fact, Safeway’s contribution to the “2013 Trust Women Actions” initiatives following the conference —“Safeway proposed the development of tools to map supply chains risks and raise alerts, using information from NGOs, social media, government agencies and open data” — was a classic example of the kind of corporate-designed social responsibility initiatives that sound like action but ultimately result in no real change, while sexual harassment, modern-day slavery, and factory fires continue unabated.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsnsDFX4zSo

    Bravo to Fair Trade for working with fishing
    communities bringing yellowfin tuna to market, but as highlighted above in
    various articles Safeway/Albertsons has a tremendous long way to go in
    addressing the issues of forced labor in its supply chains as it has paraded
    around promising to do for the last several years. Words on supply chain policy statements re: prevention of human trafficking mean very very little to the
    millions of adults and children stuck in slavery in supply chains without follow through and action to stop conducting business with law breakers. I hope more is done to stop doing business with those who would enslave humans for our food.

    Thank you.

Comments are closed.