As a former Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) I follow on-going debates about certification with a keen interest, not least because my work on the deforestation agenda raises many of the challenges we see with certification and eco-labelling in general. I have often documented my concerns about the market signal sent by certifying species such as Antarctic krill, or even, God help us all, Australian shark fin, which was mooted a few years ago. And given the on-going failure of companies like John West to embrace sustainability, tuna certification has also been one to watch closely.
I’ve also been keeping an eye on the relationship between WWF (who are in a partnership with John West that has left a sour taste in some conservationists’ mouths) and MSC, which according to Saturday’s Times newspaper has reached something of a perilous state. A WWF report has been leaked to several individuals, including me. It’s something of a bombshell analysis of the MSC by WWF (which actually founded the MSC!)
The report documents the ‘troubling, systemic flaws with the MSC scheme’. WWF concludes that the MSC programme has not been what they ‘envisioned’ it to be, and in particular has not been an ‘accurate means for sustainability of the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries’. It’s a damning and painstakingly detailed indictment of MSC’s attempts to accord certification to tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean, claiming that MSC is willing to compromise its own systems and processes in order to secure the blue tick for applicants with deep pockets.
Additionally, the report reveals that MSC is able to give ‘interpretations’ of the Harvest Control Rules (HCR), in order to secure the blue tick for fisheries that are categorically unable to meet the minimum levels set out in the MSC Fisheries Standard. According to WWF, MSC’s financial interest in the outcome of certifications is now playing too big a part in the
process, because the MSC receives royalty fees on the licensing of the blue tick logo. Ouch.
The Times has reported WWF’s rebuttal which claimed that this was an unchecked ‘draft of an internal paper’. Having seen the
document, fully designed and laid out, spattered with detailed references, I find that rebuttal slightly hard to believe. The document pdf is even named ‘FINAL’! It’s for others to decide how draft or not this was. You can read it here: wwf-retrospective-indian-ocean-tuna-hcrs-final-2-1-1
This episode yet again shines the spotlight on certification and the credibility of even the most ‘gold standard’ schemes. In general I remain a supporter of certification as a tool for better resource management. But I am sometimes reminded of that brilliant quote by Eric Hoffer: ‘Every great cause starts as a movement, becomes a business and ends up as a racket’.