What types of membership does the HKSSC offer?
The HKSSC provides two kinds of membership:
Corporate member: those who implement the Voluntary Codes of Conduct
Associate member: those willing to promote HKSSC objectives even if they cannot implement the VCoC
What are the benefits of becoming a member?
- Improve sourcing practices with HKSSC resources including supplier data collection tools, risk assessments and working groups.
- Build reputation as an active participant in Hong Kong’s sustainable seafood industry.
- Seafood Risk Assessment: suggest species for assessment.
- One-on-one support including Technical Advisors & Steering Committee.
- Knowledge on seafood supply chain issues.
- Participate in members-exclusive meetings and webinars.
- Engage in shared planning of HKSSC’s direction and strategy.
How does the HKSSC support its members?
We support our members in a number of ways:
- Voluntary Codes of Conduct and Guidance
- Supplier questionnaires and risk assessment tool (data repository)
- Technical Advisor, Steering Committee and Working Groups
- Peers and safe spaces to discuss challenges
- Webinars on key issues in seafood supply chains
- Examples of good practice in seafood policies
Voluntary Codes of Conduct
How does the implementation of the VCoC help with my seafood sourcing decisions?
Businesses may find it difficult to develop their own sourcing practices in relation to sustainability due to the lack of capacity or knowledge. The VCoC sets out recommendations for businesses to source responsibly produced fish and seafood based on industry best practices and standards. The VCoC has also been adapted to the Hong Kong and Macau market to ensure relevance to local sourcing practices.
Many businesses claim their seafood products are ‘sustainably or responsibly sourced’, the VCoC helps to clarify what this means and helps guide businesses to make the right sourcing decisions which incorporates considerations on legality, traceability, biological sustainability and other environmental concerns.
What is the impact that I can make when implementing the VCoC?
By referencing the criteria set by the VCoC, you are able to collect the relevant information from your suppliers on legality, traceability, and sustainability aspects of the products you source in order to determine the risk level of these products. Businesses may use the determined risk levels to then make appropriate sourcing decisions.
Even if your suppliers are not able to provide the information necessary for a risk assessment, businesses engaging with their suppliers on the VCoC, and on sustainable seafood more broadly, are promoting transparency and improved traceability across their supply chains simply by asking the relevant questions. We consider this a step in the right direction.
Are VCoC assessments conducted at the supplier level, species level, or product level?
VCoC risk assessments are conducted at a product level. This is because different products originating from the same species or sold by the same suppliers may still belong to a different supply chain, depending on the catch/ farming methods used. Each product’s supply chain is unique and may present different risks relating to legality, traceability, and sustainability.
My seafood products are already certified/ labelled to other third-party seafood standards, how does the VCoC differ or is similar to that process?
The VCoC endorses GSSI-recognised certification schemes.
If the product is already certified to a third-party environmental standard, then a low sustainability risk may be assigned automatically. If the product is certified with chain of custody, then a low legality and traceability risk may be assigned.
For products which are not certified to a GSSI-recognised certification, then the VCoC provides the guidance necessary for businesses to do their own risk assessments based on the appropriate information collected from suppliers. You are not required to double your efforts by conducting risk assessments for products that are already certified.
The VCoC is different from a certification or eco-label because it does not provide third-party assurance that a product conforms to specific requirements. Rather, the VCoC outlines a process to responsibly source seafood which is informed by industry best practices and standards.
What happens if a product is identified as high risk after conducting risk assessments? Does the VCoC limit my product range / supply?
The VCoC provides recommendations on sourcing decisions based on a product’s risk level, though members are free to implement these sourcing decisions as they deem appropriate to their business.
For wild capture products, if you suspect a high risk for legality and traceability issues with no checks or measures in place to mitigate this, you are recommended by the VCoC to stop sourcing from the supplier until improvements have been put in place.
For farmed products, any critical non-conformance (i.e. legality related) the member is recommended to stop sourcing until improvements are in place.
In terms of sustainability risk, the VCoC encourages members to continue working with their suppliers to improve risk levels through continuous engagement or Fishery Improvement Projects (FIP)/ Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIP), which members may suggest to the HKSSC for consideration.
If the species is considered vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered and comes from a high risk fishery, we recommend stop sourcing until improvements are in place.
For all other cases businesses are recommended to continue to source products as long as the appropriate improvement efforts to reduce risk rating are established with your suppliers.
Our business is ready to make a commitment to responsibly source fish and seafood, but we are not yet ready to implement the VCoC. What can we do and can we still join the HKSSC as a member?
Yes, HKSSC encourages all businesses who are ready to make an impact to join as a member. We recognize that different businesses are at different stages of their sustainable seafood journey, and may face different challenges and barriers unique to their industry or business. If you are not ready to implement the VCoC, or the implementation of the VCoC is not feasible based on the current environment, businesses may still join the HKSSC as an Associate Member to make an impact in other ways, while learning from fellow peers on best practices and finding solutions to shared challenges together.
Will the VCoC incur additional cost or time and resources to implement in my business? Will staff need to be experts in sustainable seafood to implement the VCoC?
The VCoC implementation process does require some time investment particularly in collecting product information from your suppliers and conducting subsequent risk assessments. To alleviate the time and effort spent by members, HKSSC has developed pre-drafted questionnaires which are ready to be shared directly with suppliers. A separate tool has also been developed to help guide members to collate supplier and product information when making risk assessments.
Businesses that do not have a dedicated sustainable seafood expert are not required to seek additional resources to implement the VCoC, they just need to have an interest in the topic. Technical questions are contained in HKSSC’s pre-developed questionnaires and tools. You may also seek the support of HKSSC’s technical advisor at any stage.
Who within my organisation would be best-suited to implement the VCoC?
The person within your organisation who holds the closest relationship with your seafood suppliers is best suited to execute the VCoC. This could be the sustainability team, procurement team, or chefs depending on the organisational structure of your business.
What happens if my suppliers are not able to engage with us or provide information to us outlined in the VCoC?
If your suppliers are unable to provide the information requested due to knowledge capacity or technical capability (such as language barriers) then businesses can identify alternate improvement actions such as training on the VCoC or more broadly on sustainable seafood (some of which can be provided or arranged by HKSSC).
If you suspect a supplier is unwilling to provide information or purposefully withholding information from you, particularly on the product’s legality or traceability aspects, then you may consider assigning the product with a high-risk rating and implement the appropriate sourcing decisions.
What if I source my seafood products indirectly through a trader? Can I still use the VCoC?
If your business does not hold direct relationships with the original seafood suppliers, then you would have to engage with your traders or distributors to help you implement the VCoC as an intermediary. Your traders and distributors who sell seafood to other businesses may already be required to respond to similar questions through their procurement process and may be familiar with the process.
How can I embed the principles of the VCoC into existing procurement processes at my company?
You can use the supporting tools developed by the HKSSC to help implement the VCoC as a separate action item from your existing procurement process. However, you may also consider institutionalising the principles of the VCoC in your supplier contracts by mandating your supplier’s participation in the VCoC process to their best effort and integrating the recommended criteria into your existing data collection process.
You may also consider mandating your suppliers to participate in continuous engagement and improvement plans with your business, should you identify medium or high risk ratings in any of their products.
Do we have to assess all seafood or can we do some at a time?
You can assess one or all, it is up to your company. As a HKSSC member we encourage you to assess all your seafood products in an appropriate timeframe that you set.
How do I communicate I’m a member of the HKSSC and that I can meet the VCoC?
You can communicate your membership on your website (see here for an example from one of our current members) as well as in other channels such as Sustainability reports and press releases. When you register as a member you will be requested to sign a commitment letter. You can then use the HKSSC member support tool to collate your supplier data and risk ratings. Our Labelling Code provides guidance on how to communicate your product claims.
How do I identify if the species I source is considered threatened?
By far the most significant aspect of the Hong Kong regulatory framework to the trade of endangered species is the local legislation implementing CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The Hong Kong government bans the cross-border trade of species listed in the Appendices to CITES without a relevant licence for the purpose. Depending on whether the species in question is listed in Appendix I, II or III, the licensing requirement may apply to its import, introduction from the sea, export, re-export, and even possession or control of relevant specimens in Hong Kong SAR.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It uses a set of criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies. These criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world. With its strong scientific base, the IUCN Red List is recognised as the most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity and it is important to be aware if your species traded is listed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered.
To search for species you can visit the IUCN website or the HKSSC Guidance document above.
What are FIPs and AIPs?
Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) or Aquaculture Improvement Projects (AIPs) can be an effective way of addressing concerns in your supply chain source fishery or aquaculture farm, using a collaborative approach. Improvement projects have a defined goal, workplan and timescales. Engagement in improvement projects can either occur directly as individual companies or indirectly through suppliers, trade associations, and by cooperating with other seafood trading companies.
This alliance of stakeholders working together to resolve sustainability issues within a specific fishery or farming region will be focusing on the management of the fishery or farming region and the challenges that it may face, identifying data that needs to be collected, agreeing on a set of priority actions that should be undertaken to improve the fishery / farming region, and then overseeing an action plan. They essentially use the power of the private sector to address challenges at the source.
What types of working group does the HKSSC have?
The HKSSC currently has three active working groups:
Seafood risk assessment: Members put forward suggested species or products to undergo a peer reviewed risk assessment conducted by local and international experts. The final species or product profile is then made openly available via the Seafood Risk Assessment website.
Marketplace: An online platform in development to help buyers and suppliers to better evidence the traceability or sustainability claims.
Outreach and communications: Supports the HKSSC in developing materials, organising events and networking.
What commitment is required of working group members?
Working groups hold meetings once a quarter, or as required and agreed upon by the members, in order to complete the objectives of the group in a calendar year. Meetings usually take place online. Between meetings, members may be required to review and provide feedback on the items the group is working on.