Off-topic: Sustainability in Fashion: Screw fish stocks, let’s make money!

Unrelated to anything Hong Kong I came across and incredibly stupid backfiring of a ethical clothing today.
The fashion company I work for was forced by some larger customers to become certified by the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) based in Belgium. This organisation is supposed to ensure that the products produced by certified brands did not cause human slavery, child labour or unsafe working practices in the manufacturing process. Apart from paying a large sum of money to become a member of BSCI (EUR 9,000+ or USD 11,250) you also have to first join the “Free Trade Association” a body that lobbies for reduction in trade tariffs and for free trade between countries. What has all this to do with marine life? Recently the EU has been considering withdrawing the GSP+ (Generalised System of Preferences) status of the Philippines. “The “GSP+”enhanced preferences means full removal of tariffs [on certain predefined products]. These are granted to countries which ratify and implement international conventions relating to human and labour rights, environment and good governance.” (EC website)

In other words the EU has been reviewing human and labour rights as well as environment and good governance in the Philippines to determine if the benefit of freer trade should be extended to the Philippines.

Here is what it found under the heading ‘Sustainable Fisheries’:

Concerns about sustainable fishing have been raised for the Philippines. Rare Conservation found
that overfishing is still the main threat to the marine ecosystem, considering that less than 5% of the Philippine coral reefs remain in pristine health and that there are fishing grounds that contain only 10% of the fish stock present 50 years ago. For the tuna sector sustainability assurances are fundamental, therefore EUROTHON is concerned about these unsustainable practices in the Philippine fishing industry. We believe it indispensable to take into account sustainability concerns when considering a GSP+ status for the Philippines. Conventions related to the environment and to governance principles should be ratified and implemented effectively.

However the FTA mentioned above lobbied hard against this withdrawal of GSP+ as a punishment for unsustainable fishing practices and help defeat this measure! Sustainability or fishing was never mentioned in the email FTA’s newsletter to its members:

We urged the MEPs concerned to reject the motion and therefore allow the Philippines to be granted GSP+ status. This morning the vote on the motion returned 12 in favour, 26 opposed and 3 abstentions. Therefore, we can claim success in this regard.

In other words by joining BSCI to show consumers how responsible and fair we are we have funded an organisation that effectively tells Members of the European Parliament:

“Screw fish stocks in the Philippines, we want to make more money with more free trade!”

According to BSCI’s own website:
“Following dramatic growth of BSCI over the years, in 2011 FTA made the decision to clearly include sustainability as one of its pillars and therefore adopted a stronger organisational structure to further develop the growth of the association and maintain an excellent service to its members.”

Perhaps by ‘sustainability’ they meant ‘short-term profit’… That’s what the truth seems to be. A healthy dose of scepticism is warranted for any ethical, sustainability or fair trade certification or membership scheme!

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