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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

U.S. Foodservice Companies Dish Out Sketchy Seafood


Seafood is a popular choice for consumers. This is true not only at grocery stores and seaside eateries, but also at places where food is provided by foodservice companies.

Foodservice companies supply a wide array of clients, including theme parks like Disney World, colleges like George Washington University, top chains like Walmart and Subway, and even the U.S. Congress. These companies purchase a hefty amount of seafood, but they don't stack up when it comes to sustainable and ethical sourcing, a recent Greenpeace report reveals.

Greenpeace assessed 15 large foodservice companies for sustainable and ethical seafood purchasing. Only three (Sodexo, Compass Group and Aramark) received passing scores -- and even those scores are low. Sodexo, which ranked No. 1, received a score of only 41.8 out of 100. Compass Group and Aramark ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Compass Group’s score was 40.3 and Aramark’s was 40.1.

Those three companies were the only ones to participate in Greenpeace’s survey. The failure to respond and engage with Greenpeace is “troubling,” the organization points out in its report. It also increases concerns about the transparency of the seafood supply chains of U.S. foodservice companies, the group said.

"The U.S. foodservice industry procures billions of dollars worth of seafood every year from seafood giants like Thai Union, often putting profits over environmental and social impacts,” Greenpeace oceans campaigner and report author David Pinsky told TriplePundit. “Some seafood companies, including Thai Union, are known for ocean destruction and even human rights abuses in some supply chains."
The foodservice industry is a big one, accounting daily for almost half of all food-dollar spending outside the home. The industry has annual sales over $700 billion and “significant growth” is predicted, Greenpeace noted. This is one industry, the group says, that has “a tremendous impact on the environment and workers worldwide.”

The seafood industry’s impacts on the environment and workers is significant. Consider that a third of all global fish stocks are overfished, and the fishing pressure may be too high for many of the 60 percent of stocks considered fully exploited. Production is expected to increase by nearly 20 percent by 2025. Recent investigations into the seafood industry found workers are exploited. And the U.S. State Department reported forced labor and human trafficking on fishing vessels or processing facilities in over 50 countries.

Foodservice industries have a big opportunity to influence the seafood industry. Take Sysco, the largest broadline distributor in the world. The company ranked No. 4 on Greenpeace’s list, scoring 14.1. It is a company that has a big impact among foodservice providers, with Aramark procuring over half of its products from Sysco. Sysco's seafood sales were almost $2.5 billion in 2015 and are more than the annual revenue of some management companies profiled in the report.

“Larger companies have more resources to invest in improving the sustainability and social equity of their supply chains, and to identify alternative suppliers,” Greenpeace stated in its report.

What companies can do to make their seafood supplies more sustainable and ethical

“Consumers are demanding change, and foodservice companies must answer the call immediately,” Pinsky said. So, what can companies do to bring about the change that consumers are demanding? Greenpeace lists five ways that foodservice companies can lead:

  1. Transparency: Creating a strong, publicly-available sustainable seafood policy is key to bringing about change in the seafood industry. Companies that have “sensible” guidelines that cover their seafood practices “are better able to ensure that they are not causing undue harm to the oceans or people throughout their operations,” Greenpeace advised. The guidelines should be time bound, measurable and transparent. Progress should be publicly reported to allow both clients and consumers to know they are buying sustainable and ethical seafood.

  2. Address labor and environmental concerns: Foodservice companies need to take action to stop forced labor, labor abuse, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. One way is to demand that companies like Thai Union, which has been linked to labor and environmental abuse, improve. Foodservice companies need to require third-party supplier audits, ban purchases of seafood trans-shipped at sea, and ensure that workers throughout the supply chain are ethically treated. 

  3. Support positive change: Companies need to support initiatives and advocate for positive change for both the oceans and workers in the seafood industry. Engaging in the political process regarding ocean conservation is key. 

  4. Move from transparency to traceability: Overall transparency needs to be increased through key data elements, chain of custody and education. Traceability has to be carried through from fishing vessel or farms to the point of sale, which allows seafood clients and end consumers to make educated purchasing choices.

  5. Use third-party rating systems: Companies should only purchase species that are green-rated, meaning they are more sustainable, and avoid yellow and red rated species, or less sustainable species. They also need to avoid seafood that is connected to overfishing, destructive fishing and farming and unethical treatment of workers.
“We must continue to shine a light on this massive industry urgently in need of reform,” Pinsky said. And hopefully that light will force foodservice companies to make changes in order to ensure their seafood supply chain is sustainable and ethical.

Image credit: Flickr/Fiona Henderson

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman