The 10th edition of Greenpeace’s Carting Away the Oceans report, released this week, found that while grocery retailers across the US have vastly improved on providing sustainable seafood, many have largely failed to take significant action on other issues pertinent to achieving sustainability in this area.
While Carting Away the Oceans primarily scores retailers on their sustainable seafood efforts, this edition also examined their efforts to eliminate labor and human rights issues and plastic pollution — two other issues of grave importance to the sustainability of the industry. While the majority of retailers passed this assessment, many have significant work to do on both fronts.
A 2016 GlobeScan survey, conducted on behalf of the Marine Stewardship Council, found that for seafood consumers across 21 countries, sustainability rates more highly than price and brand, with nearly three-quarters (72 percent) agreeing that in order to save the oceans, shoppers should only consume seafood from sustainable sources; more than half (54 percent) said they are prepared to pay more for a certified sustainable seafood product. In Greenpeace’s latest assessment, retailers are largely stepping up — 90 percent of the retailers profiled received passing scores, ten years after every single retailer failed the first assessment. Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, ALDI and Target ranked as the top four retailers this year, while Trader Joe’s dropped the furthest, seven spots since Greenpeace’s last report.
“Supermarkets across the country have made significant progress on seafood sustainability in recent years,” said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky. “It is time for major retailers to put the same energy into tackling the other issues facing our oceans and seafood workers, such as plastic pollution and labor and human rights abuses in seafood supply chains. It’s not truly sustainable seafood if it is produced by forced labor and then wrapped in throwaway plastic packaging.”
Whole Foods remains the top-ranked retailer this year, following the implementation of a strong shelf-stable tuna policy and marked sourcing improvements. Hy-Vee placed second, achieving high marks for its advocacy and transparency initiatives. ALDI moved into the top three for the first time ever, buoyed by new policies to address problematic practices such as transshipment at sea, which is linked to illegal fishing and human rights abuses. Target moved into the top four following improvements in policy and advocacy initiatives, though the company broke a 2010 commitment by re-introducing farmed salmon in its stores.
On the other end of the spectrum, Price Chopper, Save Mart and Wakefern scored the lowest in this year’s report. Trader Joe’s dropped the furthest for its lack of initiatives or customer engagement on sustainable seafood. More than eight years after Trader Joe’s committed to improve on seafood sustainability, the retailer does not yet have a robust, public sustainable seafood procurement policy. See the report for the complete ranking.
The past year has seen a lot of momentum from UK retailers including Iceland, The Co-Op and Waitrose toward phasing out single-use plastics and introducing alternatives, but none of the US retailers profiled in the report have comprehensive policies to reduce and ultimately phase out their reliance on single-use plastics. The equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute, and with plastic production set to double in the next 20 years — largely for packaging — the threats to ocean biodiversity and seafood supply chains are increasing. Greenpeace is urging retailers to take responsibility for their contribution to this pollution crisis, as cities nationwide and large foodservice companies are already making commitments to start phasing out single-use plastics.
Earlier this year, Greenpeace released Misery at Sea, which documented illegal fishing and human rights abuses linked to Taiwanese fleets and large seafood trader Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF), which supplies many US supermarkets. Greenpeace is urging retailers to demand sustainable, ethical seafood from traders such as FCF and Tri Marine (which procure and then supply large amounts of seafood, especially tuna, to the US market), and support the creation of legally binding labor agreements to protect workers’ rights in the larger seafood industry.
But Greenpeace doesn’t just target companies that need to improve their environmental and social performance, it now partners with them: In 2017, two years after Greenpeace launched a campaign demanding that Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company, take action to eliminate exploitative and unsustainable practices from its supply chains, the two organizations came together to create a comprehensive package of reforms and commitments that the tuna company will take in order to reduce both its environmental and social impacts.