The Soneva Dialogue: Seafood Companies Launch Major Initiative

Sensemaking / The Soneva Dialogue: Seafood Companies Launch Major Initiative

Forum for the Future's founder-director, Jonathon Porritt, reflects on his experience leading the first keystone dialogue involving 13 large seafood businesses

By Jonathon Porritt / 05 Jan 2017

Wednesday saw the launch of one of the most fascinating – and significant – initiatives that I’ve been involved in for a very long time: Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SEABOS) – a coalition of eight of the world’s largest and most powerful fisheries companies coming together to address some of the most pressing issues confronting the world’s oceans.

The backstory here is this. Some years ago, the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) started to research the ‘who’s who’ of the global seafood industry – turnover, market share, influence etc. It identified 13 ‘keystone actors’ responsible for up to 40% of sales of key species (tuna, salmon etc). The SRC’s Johan Rockström presented their findings to a Symposium hosted by the amazing Soneva Foundation back in 2013, and I suggested, almost in passing, that it would be pretty bloody brilliant if we could get all 13 keystone actors together, in one place, at one time, to start getting serious about their true leadership in such a troubled world.

Three years later(!), eight of them did indeed come together in a special Dialogue process, hosted again by the Soneva Foundation, which I had the privilege of chairing. A lot had gone on in those intervening years, not least the drafting of nine special Briefing Papers, prepared by the SRC and by Forum for the Future – which you can find (along with everything else about SEABOS) on the brand new website.

We honestly weren’t sure just how much we could get out of the Dialogue – some of these keystone actors had never even met each other, and for every other minute of every other day, they’re fierce competitors. But there was a timeliness about this that made it possible to go far beyond our rather cautious starting-point. And the Statement that they signed up to at the end of the Dialogue, with ten specific and extremely substantive commitments, is a remarkable document.

Which is why I really want to take my hat off to those eight business leaders. To outsiders (especially campaigning NGOs!), it all looks ‘blindingly obvious’ – why wouldn’t they want to add their weight to efforts to address climate change, to eliminate the scourge of illegal fishing, to put pressure on politicians to prevent yet more billions of bits of plastic ending up in the oceans?

But it’s never quite that easy. On each of the ten commitments, each of them has to be confident of getting their own house in order, of raising the bar inside their own companies as well as across the industry as a whole, of putting their heads above the parapet when it’s usually far easier (and safer!) to keep themselves off the radar.

I think what they’ve done is amazing – but what helped make that possible was everything else: a brilliant location; the total integrity and authority of the SRC’s scientific endeavours; a Patron (in Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden) who inspired everyone with her own passion and hard work; some wonderful additional experts providing their own insights; and extraordinary reserves of goodwill on the part of all involved as we started to take account of the incredible significance of what we were planning.

OK – it took years; it’s still only words on a bit of paper; all the hard work lies ahead, etc etc. But if we can’t celebrate these little moments of trust-based collaboration, and real hope, then we might as well give up now.

Originally published on Jonathon Porritt's blog.

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