Go­ing Dig­i­tal for Sus­tain­abil­ity

Trace­abil­ity is the back­bone of sus­tain­abil­ity

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Front Page - Writ­ten by: Chris Hughes

Con­sumers around the globe want to know where their food comes from and want to have the con­fi­dence that it meets the high­est qual­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity stan­dards. Trace­abil­ity – the abil­ity to track a prod­uct in gran­u­lar de­tail from its place of ori­gin all the way to the con­sumer – is a key com­po­nent that ben­e­fits pro­duc­ers and con­sumers by bring­ing trans­parency to the en­tire sys­tem.

The chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties are par­tic­u­larly acute for the fish­ing and seafood in­dus­try.

Ac­tiv­i­ties that take place at sea can be dif­fi­cult to mon­i­tor or su­per­vise. All too of­ten, only those on boats un­der­stand the con­di­tions faced and the type of fish­ing be­ing con­ducted. This lack of mon­i­tor­ing has led to un­ac­cept­able la­bor and fish­ing vi­o­la­tions, re­sult­ing in hu­man rights abuses and il­le­gal, un­re­ported and un­reg­u­lated ( IUU) fish­ing.

Thai Union be­lieves trace­abil­ity, the back­bone of sus­tain­abil­ity, is key to com­bat­ting these is­sues.

The in­for­ma­tion de­rived from trace­abil­ity is ex­tremely pow­er­ful – not only does it help guard against IUU fish­ing, but it also helps mon­i­tor la­bor stan­dards on ves­sels and pro­tect stock lev­els for the fu­ture. For ex­am­ple, know­ing how many yel­lowfin tuna are taken from the In­dian Ocean by dif­fer­ent fish­ing ves­sels will al­low the Re­gional Fish­ery Man­age­ment Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( RFMO) to mon­i­tor the stock lev­els of the species.

As part of the jour­ney to­wards full trace­abil­ity, Thai Union is a found­ing mem­ber of and works closely with the In­ter­na­tional Seafood Sus­tain­abil­ity Foun­da­tion ( ISSF), which has de­vel­oped the Proac­tive Ves­sel Reg­is­ter ( PVR). The PVR pro­vides val­i­dated in­for­ma­tion on the steps each ves­sel is tak­ing to im­ple­ment sus­tain­abil­ity com­mit­ments. Thai Union is com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing the amount of fish we pur­chase from PVR listed ves­sels – in fact, from the start of 2016 all the large- scale purse sein­ers Thai Union pur­chases from are reg­is­tered, and the com­pany is ac­tively en­cour­ag­ing all its sup­pli­ers to join.


In many ways, the fish­ing in­dus­try is be­hind the curve when it comes to ap­ply­ing new tech­nolo­gies and in­no­va­tion. The rea­son is sim­ple: it is a lot harder to build tech­nol­ogy onto a fish­ing boat and con­nect it via satel­lite to the in­ter­net than it might be at a farm or fac­tory.

To­day, even many of the most eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able seafood com­pa­nies use pa­per- based sys­tems to track at least part of their sup­ply chain. But any pa­per­based sys­tem lacks ef­fi­ciency and is sus­cep­ti­ble to sim­ple hu­man er­ror. For­tu­nately, the fish­ing in­dus­try has evolved sig­nif­i­cantly, mak­ing the unimag­in­able years ago, now pos­si­ble.

Thai Union and Mars Pet­care, along with a coali­tion of other in­dus­try and govern­ment groups such as the U. S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment’s Oceans and Fish­eries Part­ner­ship ( USAID Oceans), re­cently launched an innovative pi­lot pro­gram that has the po­ten­tial to start a dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. In­marsat’s “Fleet One” ter­mi­nals were suc­cess­fully in­stalled on fish­ing ves­sels in Thai­land, while the crew mem­bers, cap­tains and fleet own­ers were trained on “Fish Talk” chat ap­pli­ca­tions de­vel­oped by Xsense that en­able them to con­nect with fam­i­lies and peers around the world while at sea – an in­dus­try first for Thai fish­eries.

The pi­lot pro­gram will test scal­able plat­forms for elec­tronic Catch Data and Trace­abil­ity ( ECDT) sys­tems that uti­lize mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions and satel­lite con­nec­tiv­ity, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to demon­strate

true elec­tronic end- to- end trace­abil­ity and sup­ply chain man­age­ment.

By cap­tur­ing in­for­ma­tion dig­i­tally at ev­ery stage, Thai Union is able to share se­lected data with the rest of the in­dus­try, reg­u­la­tors, re­tail­ers and ul­ti­mately, con­sumers. The com­pany’s trace­abil­ity pro­gram also ex­tends to all sig­nif­i­cant in­gre­di­ent com­po­nents as well as pack­ag­ing sup­pli­ers.

More im­por­tantly for hu­man rights, the use of ‘ Fish Talk’ in the pi­lot brings with it the abil­ity for the work­ers on the ves­sels to use a com­pressed chat func­tion to com­mu­ni­cate with loved ones back on shore, mak­ing what can be a lonely job more con­nected and sup­ported.

The sys­tem gives sup­pli­ers the abil­ity to:

Im­prove ef­fi­ciency of trace­abil­ity records val­i­dated by fish­ery man­agers and man­age risk in the sup­ply chain; Demon­strate true elec­tronic end- toend trace­abil­ity and sup­ply chain man­age­ment with link­ages to mar­kets such as the United States and Euro­pean Union to bet­ter ad­dress con­cerns with IUU fish­ing and la­bor is­sues in fish­eries.

The seafood in­dus­try needs to con­tinue to work to bring full trans­parency and dig­i­tal trace­abil­ity into the sup­ply chain, and this pi­lot is a ma­jor step in the right di­rec­tion, ac­cord­ing to Dar­ian Mcbain, Thai Union’s group di­rec­tor for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. “In the long run, trace­abil­ity will help make the en­tire fish­ing in­dus­try more sus­tain­able, pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and work­ers, while de­liv­er­ing a high- qual­ity prod­ucts and im­por­tant nutri­tion to con­sumers across the globe.”

“We are proud to part­ner with Thai Union to launch this pi­lot pro­gram. Pro­vid­ing con­nec­tiv­ity at sea for work­ers is a mile­stone in re­spon­si­ble and eth­i­cal sourc­ing,” said Is­abelle Aelvoet, Global Sus­tain­abil­ity Di­rec­tor at Mars Pet­care. “We know it will con­trib­ute to as­sur­ing trace­abil­ity and we are con­fi­dent it will soon be­come a stan­dard across en­tire fish­ing in­dus­try.”

The launch of the pi­lot pro­gram fol­lows Thai Union’s 2016 an­nounce­ment of an am­bi­tious $ 90m strat­egy to en­sure 100 per­cent of its branded tuna is sus­tain­ably sourced with a com­mit­ment of achiev­ing a min­i­mum of 75 per­cent by 2020. As part of the new tuna strat­egy, Thai Union is in­vest­ing in ini­tia­tives that will in­crease the sup­ply of sus­tain­able tuna. This in­cludes es­tab­lish­ing 11 new Fish­ery Im­prove­ment Projects ( FIPS) around the world. A FIP is a pro­gram to trans­form a fish­ery, en­sur­ing sus­tain­able fish stocks, min­i­mized en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts, and im­proved man­age­ment of the fish­ery. The strat­egy also iden­ti­fied trace­abil­ity as the key to sus­tain­abil­ity and safe and le­gal la­bor in the tuna in­dus­try.


USAID Oceans and Thai Union in March an­nounced a broad part­ner­ship to com­bat IUU fish­ing, pro­mote fair and eth­i­cal seafood sup­ply chains, and im­prove the sus­tain­abil­ity of fish­eries in the Asia- Pa­cific re­gion.

To­gether, both or­ga­ni­za­tions will sup­port the de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion of dig­i­tal catch doc­u­men­ta­tion and trace­abil­ity ( CDT) sys­tems in tuna fish­eries in Thai­land and In­done­sia, with fu­ture ex­pan­sion to other coun­tries and fish­eries in the Asia- Pa­cific re­gion. USAID Oceans and Thai Union will also part­ner to im­prove fish­eries man­age­ment prac­tices; form part­ner­ships with govern­ments and other in­dus­try stake­hold­ers to im­prove trans­parency in seafood sup­ply chains; and ex­plore link­ing ad­di­tional fea­tures to CDT sys­tems, in­clud­ing la­bor data and crew com­mu­ni­ca­tions to pro­mote re­spon­si­ble and eq­ui­table la­bor prac­tices in the seafood sec­tor.

Ad­di­tion­ally, USAID Oceans and Thai Union will co­op­er­ate to demon­strate best prac­tices in im­ple­ment­ing elec­tronic trace­abil­ity, as a model for the in­dus­try and govern­ments to ad­dress IUU fish­ing, sus­tain­able fish­eries man­age­ment and fair la­bor mon­i­tor­ing. USAID Oceans and Thai Union will col­lab­o­rate on var­i­ous CDT sys­tems and la­bor re­port­ing tools on fish­ing ves­sels in Thai­land in part­ner­ship with the Thai De­part­ment of Fish­eries and sev­eral tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies – which in­cludes the afore­men­tioned pi­lot pro­gram as part of this over­all ef­fort.

Also, at the re­cent UN Oceans Sum­mit in New York City, Thai Union com­mit­ted to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s Tuna 2020 Trace­abil­ity Dec­la­ra­tion. The Dec­la­ra­tion sup­ports the United Na­tions’ ( UN) Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals ( SDGS) which were adopted by all 193 Heads of State via a UN Res­o­lu­tion in Septem­ber 2015 at a UN sum­mit. Thai Union has iden­ti­fied three SDGS it can most con­trib­ute to­ward: zero hunger, de­cent work and eco­nomic growth, and life be­low wa­ter. This ini­tia­tive will ac­tively con­trib­ute to the lat­ter, help­ing to con­serve and sus­tain­ably use the oceans, seas and marine re­sources.

The Tuna 2020 Trace­abil­ity Dec­la­ra­tion has been en­dorsed by lead­ers of the world’s big­gest re­tail­ers, tuna pro­ces­sors, mar­keters, traders and har­vesters, with the sup­port of in­flu­en­tial civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions and govern­ments. The en­ti­ties en­dors­ing the Tuna 2020 Trace­abil­ity Dec­la­ra­tion have com­mit­ted to con­crete ac­tions and part­ner­ships to demon­strate their com­mit­ment to im­ple­ment the Dec­la­ra­tion and Ac­tion Agenda.

And Thai Union par­tic­i­pates in the Global Di­a­logue on Seafood Trace­abil­ity, an in­ter­na­tional, busi­ness- to- busi­ness plat­form es­tab­lished by the World Wildlife Fund ( WWF) to ad­vance a uni­fied frame­work for in­ter­op­er­a­ble seafood trace­abil­ity prac­tices. The Di­a­logue brings to­gether a broad spec­trum of seafood in­dus­try stake­hold­ers from across dif­fer­ent parts of the sup­ply chain, as well as rel­e­vant civil so­ci­ety ex­perts from di­verse re­gions.

“Thai Union is proud of these col­lab­o­ra­tions to fur­ther com­bat IUU fish­ing, pro­mote fair and eth­i­cal sup­ply chains, and im­prove sus­tain­able fish­eries and marine con­ser­va­tion in the Asia- Pa­cific re­gion,” said Mcbain. “We be­lieve pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor col­lab­o­ra­tion is a key com­po­nent to drive pos­i­tive change en­sur­ing the seas are sus­tain­able now and in the fu­ture. In­volve­ment from in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions not only as­sists in­dus­try par­tic­i­pants to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of change in these crit­i­cal ar­eas, but also helps val­i­date the progress which is achieved.”

Fish­ing boats in South­ern Thai­land. Credit: Thai Union

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