Standing in solidarity with Indigenous rights-holders in the Maritimes: Investors and fisheries in Canada

By October 22, 2020News

By Katherine Wheatley, Shannon Rohan & Anthony Schein

Last week, our team watched the escalating violence against Mi’kmaq fishers and started exchanging emails and messages internally: “How much do we know about the Nova Scotia fishery supply chain?” “Which major companies buy Nova Scotia lobster?” “Do seafood sustainability labels have any human rights analysis?” “Has the Fisheries Council of Canada made a public statement?”

At first glance, the escalating violence against Indigenous fishers seemed far removed from the investment context. As we examined the relevant fishery and market dynamics further, we found opportunities for companies, and investors, to uphold Mi’kmaq treaty rights – and their own commitments to reconciliation.

First and foremost, the onus is on the Crown. Through its nation-to-nation relationship with the Mi’kmaq, the Government of Canada must ensure the Mi’kmaq can fully exercise their treaty right to fish to support a “moderate livelihood,” as set out in the Marshall decision [1999, 3 S.C.R. 456].

Yet Canadian companies also have an important role to play in supporting reconciliation and respect for Indigenous rights and title, as reinforced by the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #92 for the corporate sector. In this case, as elsewhere, investors should be attentive to how Canadian companies support and respect Indigenous rights and title, such as the Mi’kmaq’s treaty right to fish.

Investors can start by asking which companies in their portfolios are significantly involved in the lobster trade. Some public companies are members of fishery and industry associations, such as the Fisheries Council of Canada. Other companies have joined OceanWise, the Marine Stewardship Council, and other seafood sustainability labelling programs.

We recommend that investors ask major Canadian grocery retailers that are involved in the lobster industry through trade associations or purchasing arrangements to do three things:

  • First, in keeping with their own commitments to reconciliation, companies should make it clear that the actions of non-Indigenous fishers in Nova Scotia over the past weeks are unacceptable. Companies should do that at a firm level, and through industry associations they are part of, such as the Fisheries Council of Canada. As of October 21, no Canadian grocery retailer has made a public comment, nor had the Fisheries Council.
  • Second, investors have an important role to play in advocating for greater transparency of seafood supply chains broadly, including for lobster. At this time, too little is known about where Canadian grocery retailers are sourcing lobsters. Consumers and investors have an expectation of transparency around the nature and source of their products – particularly when it comes to the food supply. Sustainability labelling is a good start, but its shortcomings are made apparent by the current situation.
  • Third, investors can encourage Canadian companies, including the major grocery retailers, to increase the procurement of goods and services from Indigenous-owned businesses. As the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) highlights, improving procurement opportunities supports positive outcomes for Indigenous communities, and is a key element of economic reconciliation in corporate Canada. Major grocery retailers can set targets to increase procurement from Indigenous-owned businesses and join CCAB’s Aboriginal Procurement Champions Group to support rights-holders in Nova Scotia and beyond by intentionally sourcing seafood and other goods and services from Indigenous providers.

On behalf of our network of institutional investors, SHARE will be putting these questions to some of Canada’s leading food retailers. We urge others to do the same.

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