We all have those items of clothing, those ill-thought out, cheap purchases that were supposed to fit after you'd starved yourself for a week, relegated to the crushed pile of unironables at the bottom of the wardrobe.

We have all bought that emergency battery pack or laptop cable from the cheap market stall in a last ditch effort to send that file from your attempt at a holiday.

Just like we all eat that fish. That untraceable, untrustworthy shrimp pad thai in that backstreet shack trying to avoid the seafood A-listers at the end of a long conference session; that dodgy tuna sandwich from the shelf of the local independent corner shop on a rushed office lunch hour.

We collectively, as consumers -- even I suspect, those working in the seafood sector -- make unethical, irresponsible choices when it comes to our purchases, whether it be wasteful, one-time only sweatshop clothing, electronics or food.

Sure, we don't know that it was produced in an unethical or unsustainable way. Not for sure. But we will generally take that risk for the sake of convenience, even if we like to think our overarching life choices bend towards being responsible human beings.

And those overarching life choices depend largely, when it comes to purchasing, on the retailers we buy from. Whatever the Marine Stewardship Council or other certification schemes might say, I suspect that a consumer facing label on individual packaging has little impact other than to confirm that your chosen food retailer is a responsible one.

As the face we recognize -- and the till that takes our money -- our supermarkets are entrusted with pretty much all our environmental, social and ethical beliefs, but it is frightening how uninvolved many of them are in the very start of their supply chain.

And that is why it is important that last week, low-cost clothes shop chain Primark made the announcement that it is to train 160,000 cotton farmers in India, Pakistan and China in environmentally friendly farming methods in part of its drive to source sustainable cotton for its clothing ranges.

Ireland-based Primark, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, with almost 400 stores across Europe and now the United States, is not famed for its sustainability.

The retailer has come under attack again and again for its lack of traceability and the alleged employment of underage and underpaid workers in the developing world factories that supply it.

It has also been given flack for its low-cost, single-use message in a world where natural resources are in increasing short supply and consumer awareness of the environmental and sociological disaster befalling us as a race is at an all time high.

So, for all the ways it smacks of a marketing ploy, it is an important move in the retail world's realization of the responsibility it holds towards the end product that produces its profits and the supply chain that serves it.

Of course, food retailers, particularly in the seafood arena, are fantastic at demanding certain standards from their supplier. But actually, most do little to invest at the very start of the chain.

This means that many processors, in particular, find themselves sandwiched between uneducated, poorly financed producers in one part of the world and wealthy retailers whose customers have the luxury of being able to make what are deemed to be "responsible" purchasing choices in other parts of the world.

As the current car crash of world politics continues to skid towards the precipice and the world's population explodes, this divide will become increasingly pronounced. It will, in turn, put those stuck in the middle of the supply chain in an increasingly tricky position, trying to bridge a cavernous gap between rich and poor, demand and supply.

It is a challenge that I have touched on before, and one that is essential to tackle if the seafood sector is to fill the role it needs to in the world.

And this is where retailers and foodservice professionals must take the responsibility of not just demanding responsible, sustainable practices down the supply chain, but investing in those efforts where others can't.

It is an increasingly desperate complaint from producers that the raft of certification schemes that litters the industry and to which retailers are increasingly reliant on, are an unaffordable slice from the already minuscule margins on which they are surviving.

Primark's leap to educate and involve themselves at the very beginning of its supply chain will cut out the middlemen and significant costs, and give the retailer far better understanding and assurance of its supply chain than any third-party certification ever could. Retailers of seafood should take note.


We would love to hear more about the efforts of supermarkets and foodservice buyers and their investments in seafood production. If you have a story, please drop a line to rachel.mutter@intrafish.com.