Major UK retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Coop are the first to sign the Environmental Justice Foundation’s (EJF) Charter for Transparency, which is designed to help supermarkets ensure their seafood supply chains are free from illegal fishing and human rights abuse.

Together these major retailers make up more than half of all groceries sales in the United Kingdom.

The NGO said it is also having positive discussions with several other supermarkets and hopes to announce further commitments soon.

Human rights abuses and illegal practices that destroy ocean ecosystems have plagued parts of the global seafood industry.

EJF said a lack of transparency in the global seafood industry allows such harmful practices to persist.

"Transparency in all aspects of fisheries is crucial to ensuring that the seafood we eat was caught legally, ethically and sustainably," said the NGO. "Supermarkets are a vital link in the chain and can do much to demand change."

The charter includes detailed recommendations retailers can use with suppliers to make sure no boat associated with illegal or unethical practices taints their supply chain.

Central to this is the use of traceability systems that allow fish to be tracked from net to plate, accompanied by necessary evidence showing it was caught legally and ethically.

These should be backed up by third-party audits, focused on those areas of the supply chain with the highest risks.

In addition, supermarkets have a powerful voice that they can use to call on governments to make critical reforms. The charter calls on them to support the adoption of EJF’s 10 principles for global transparency in the fishing industry.

These simple, low-cost measures – which include publishing license lists and giving vessels unique numbers – are well within the reach of any country and can play a pivotal role in the battle against illegal fishing and human rights abuse in the sector.