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Organization Name


Case Story Title

Marine Stewardship Council

Case Story Date


Issues Addressed

  • Principle 7 - Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges
  • Principle 8 - Undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility

Case Story Category

Internalization Project

Countries of Impact

Case Description

By the mid 1990s it was clear that global fish stocks were severely threatened. Today, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 48% of fisheries are fully exploited, 16% are overfished and 9% are depleted.

Unilever is one of the largest buyers of frozen fish for its Iglo, Birds Eye and Findus brands. The company realised that to safeguard its frozen fish business in the long-term, something had to be done to preserve fish stocks.

The aim was to develop a fisheries certification scheme that could endorse sustainable fisheries management and operational practice. Fish sourced from certified fisheries could carry a logo on their packaging.

Unilever and the international conservation organisation WWF set targets to:

*Carry out a global consultation process

*Set up the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)

*Establish the MSC as an independent non-profit organisation (an NGO).Unilever started discussions with the international conservation organisation, WWF, in 1996. The company was impressed by the work WWF had done to establish the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and felt that a similar programme could be applied to marine fish stocks.

Unilever and WWF agreed an operating framework for the Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC adopted principles and criteria for sustainable fisheries, based on the UN FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the results of a global stakeholder consultation process and two expert drafting sessions.

In mid-1998 an international board of directors was appointed and in 1999 the MSC became an independent non-profit organisation.

The MSC was set up jointly by Unilever and the WWF. Like Unilever, the WWF brought its wide-ranging strengths, knowledge and contact networks to the project. Initial discussions confirmed that Unilever and the WWF had different motives, but a common purpose: the need to assure the long-term sustainability of global fish stocks.

Many others contributed their expert advice to the MSC guidelines through the consultation process. These included environmental and marine experts, scientists, fishing industry and trade representatives, government officials and regulators.

The project to set up the MSC was led jointly by Unilever and the WWF.Unilever and the WWF provided initial funding for the MSC, with the view that the income from licences would make it financially independent. It was always envisaged that the MSC would become an independent organisation.The MSC started work as an international accreditation body in early 1999. Since then it has been accrediting professional bodies to certify fisheries around the world. Over 40 fisheries, in both the developed and the developing worlds, have either started or completed the certification process. By late 2002 there were more than 100 products bearing the MSC logo.

Since 2000 Unilever has sold MSC certified fish in several of its leading European frozen fish products under the Iglo and Birds Eye brands.

Quantify and qualify which goals were met and which were not?

The project met its goal to set up a certification scheme for sustainable fisheries management. There is still a long way to go to secure the future of fish stocks world-wide. However the MSC will help towards the target set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002: to restore, where possible, heavily depleted fish stocks by 2015.

What were some of the lessons learned?

The project showed that two organisations with the same aim but different motives can form a successful partnership to meet a sustainable development goal. It also demonstrated the value of widespread consultation. Creating a unique and relevant new organisation has wider value as a visible result for sustainability.


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