Citing serious procedural unfairness, the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) has announced it is withdrawing with immediate effect from the objection process related to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of the Echebastar Indian Ocean purse seine skipjack tuna fishery.
The decision to withdraw from the objection coincides with an identical announcement from Sharkproject and follows a series of what both organisations allege are unfair actions and decisions which have prejudiced their ability to equitably participate in the process.
These actions include failure to disclose relevant information used in the assessment, the perceived failure of the accreditation body (CAB) to act in an independent and impartial way, unfairly onerous deadlines for the assessment/submission of evidence materials, failure to grant reasonable extension of time when requested and the insistence by the Independent Adjudicator (IA) that the oral hearing be held in the Seychelles despite all the parties to the objection being based in Europe and the additional costs and travel time that would be entailed with such a remote location.
In addition to these issues, the parties also express serious concerns over actions pre-dating the Objection Process, including the fact that the MSC selected Echebastar to be one of six fisheries to take part in in a new so-called ‘Streamlining Pilot’ assessment process introduced by the MSC in 2016, despite the fact that it had just had its bid for certification overturned.
These actions, IPNLF asserts, are in direct contravention of the MSC’s own core principles of transparency and accessibility for all stakeholders concerned with certification.
IPNLF will now lodge an official complaint with the MSC about procedural issues related to the Echebastar assessment and the objection process via MSC’s own Complaints Procedure. If not satisfactorily resolved a further complaint will be submitted to ISEAL, the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance. The MSC, as a member of ISEAL, is required to comply with its Codes for Standard-Setting, Assurance and Impact Monitoring and the ISEAL Code of Ethics. Assessments against the MSC standard should also be consistent with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) guidelines for credible marine ecolabelling and certification programmes.
A complaint will also be lodged with Accreditation Services International (ASI), the provider of accreditation services for the MSC program, about the conduct of the CAB, Acoura Marine. IPNLF and Sharkproject allege they failed to act in an independent and impartial manner as required under ASI guidelines and as set out by both ISEAL and the UN FAO Guidelines on Ecolabelling.
IPNLF Managing Director Martin Purves said: “The Objection Process for this certification has completely compromised our ability to participate on an equal footing with the CAB and the fishery, leaving us with no other option but to withdraw. We entered the process in good faith despite our serious concerns, made clear early on, about the suitability of a complex fishery such as Echebastar being assessed under the Streamlining Pilot Process. We now believe that not only the Pilot process, but the way in which our objection has been handled, puts the credibility of the MSC seriously at risk.”
The withdrawal notice cites multiple examples of alleged prejudicial actions and decisions during the course of an Objection Process relating to Echebastar’s second bid for certification, which began in March 2017. These include unfair steps relating to:
1. Time Limits for Objections
15 working days were given to read and assess a technical scientific 480-page report on the fishery and complete a lengthy Notice of Objection. A request for an extension was declined.
2. Disclosure of Relevant Documentation
No access was granted to the MSC’s Interpretations Log defining key terms and standards underpinning the assessment of the Fishery. This is not the first time that the Interpretation Log has caused an issue in a fishery certification process and during a previous objection ruling in February, the MSC’s Independent Adjudicator himself said “It is wrong for a publicly available standard to be interpreted based upon a privately available policy” and “It is … surprising, … that when asked the MSC did not disclose the full Log to the parties”.
Key decisions have taken an excessive length of time to reach causing prejudice to the objectors. For example, the Objectors applied for disclosure of the Interpretation Log on 20 July 2017. However, it was not until 31 August 2018, merely 31 days before the hearing was due to commence, that the IA confirmed that the Interpretations Log should be disclosed by the CAB (or they should confirm that the version published by the MSC is the same version as they referred to during the assessment). As detailed herein that has still not happened.
4. Location of the Final Adjudication Hearing in the Seychelles
The costs of travelling to and attending a hearing in the Seychelles (when all parties to the process are EU-based) is prohibitive to small NGOs. The alternative, to submit evidence via video link over five days, is not an acceptable solution providing fair access to the full proceedings.