Seafood, Slavery and Sundays

Seafood, Slavery and Sundays

It’s a normal Sunday in the Nicholl household, pouring over newspapers and world events, household chores and the neverending meandering of my forever active mind. Because I’m too lazy to buy a dryer after just having moved house, I’m currently in the Laundromat waiting for my sheets to dry and listening to the sound of my own thoughts. Example internal dialogue transcript: Who actually carries $20 worth of $1 coins these days? I wonder if the lady in the IGA would be cross if I asked her for change for the dryer without buying anything. Must call dad to arrange fathers day events... My legs hurt from the gym…. But amongst the randomness, what I was really thinking about was about an article in The Age on Saturday, ‘Consumers in the dark on seafood origins’.


As a supply chain consultant these types of headlines grab my eye, but increasingly as a consumer I feel more and more concerned. As the demand for seafood grows globally, so too does the global supply chain, reaching far and wide to meet the supply of our fish markets, fancy restaurants and local fish and chips shops.


We place such a great deal of trust in food providers we purchase our food from, and as supply professionals we also place so much trust on our first tier of supply but we place that trust without sufficient data and visibility of what the source actually is. The seafood industry is such a grim example of where it all goes wrong. Differing levels of rigour in safety standards globally combined with flimsy legislation on food labelling means that we don’t really know what we are getting when we order scallops at our favourite restaurant, and if it has been sourced ethically and sustainably.


….If I buy a dryer I could dry my sheets in the comfort of my own home. AND as a great secondary benefit it would probably heat the whole apartment at the same time since its such a shoebox. Might be a pain in summer time….


Aside from the food safety issues that arise from the lack of transparency in the seafood supply chain, there are grave humanitarian concerns as well. Seafood from South East Asia, most notably Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar is reputed to be caught by fisherman working in terrible conditions. In March 600 Burmese men were rescued from boats in Indonesia, they were sleeping in cells, eating barely enough food to sustain them and were beaten if they couldn’t cope or they complained.


….hmmmmm how do you actually hang a dryer on the wall? I wonder if I could bribe my brother-in-law to hang it for me if I bought one....


At this stage it is virtually impossible to tell where fish caught by slaves ends up. As consumers we really are in the dark about whether we are contributing to such human rights violations through the food we source and eat. As buyers and supply chain professionals we have a responsibility to start campaigning for greater transparency in the supply chains we work within and to demand that the government governments build legislative structures to drive the business activity required. The UK enacted the Modern Slavery Act in July 2015 and section 6 speaks specifically to transparency in supply chains. Businesses over a certain size now must provide an annual report on the measures taken to ensure that no slavery was involved in the purchase of their goods and services, and an anti-slavery commission is to be appointed to enforced it. It will be interesting to see the influence this has over purchasing processes in the short term. It really is only a matter of time before this issue gains momentum and we see similar changes here in Australia. What is your organisation doing now to ready itself ?




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