ForUM and Friends of the Earth Norway filed a complaint against Cermaq ASA for multiple breaches of the Guidelines arising from the fish farming and fish feed operations of the company’s subsidiary Mainstream.
Cermaq ASA, headquartered in Norway, is one of the world’s largest fish farming and fish feed companies. It is engaged in the breeding and distribution of salmon and trout in Norway, Scotland, Canada, and Chile. The Norwegian government is the majority shareholder in the company.
The complaint alleges that Cermaq ASA has not adequately considered the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada and Chile whose access to resources is threatened by the company’s salmon breeding.
The groups also contend that Cermaq has carried out unfounded dismissals, attempted to prevent free association of employees in labour unions, discriminated against women and implemented inadequate safety procedures for its employees. Further, they allege Cermaq’s activities pose an environmental threat through the spread of salmon lice and disease.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Version 2000 Chapter II
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.7
- Version 2000 Chapter IV
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.1 Subparagraph IV.1.A
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.1 Subparagraph IV.1.D
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.4
- Version 2000 Chapter V
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.2
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.3
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.4
As part of the initial assessment, the Norwegian NCP, which is taking the lead in handling the case, forwarded the complaint to the Chilean and Canadian NCPs for comment. Both NCPs provided comments.
The complainants provided the Norwegian NCP with additional evidence of the alleged breaches in Spanish, but the NCP concluded it could not process the information due to lack of translation resources.
In June 2010, the NCP conducted meetings with the parties and subsequently decided to accept the case. The complainants requested that the NCP undertake a fact finding mission or hire an independent expert to investigate the facts, but the NCP considered the most important aspects of the case, especially those concerning the environment, to be already well examined. To ensure efficient use of resources the NCP decided not to initiate further investigations.
A reorganised NCP, with a new independent panel of experts forming the main body met with all parties on 13 April 2011. The meeting was concluded with a renewed offer of good offices to all parties to mediate with the goal achieving a joint statement. Both Cermaq ASA and the complainants provided the NCP with additional requested documentation by 9 May, while mediation by the head of the Norwegian NCP took place between 20 and 29 June.
The joint statement was reached on 1 July and officially signed on 10 August 2011. In the joint statement, Cermaq admits to have taken insufficient account to the precautionary principle in meeting social and environmental challenges. The parent company also takes responsibility for its subsidiaries’ activities abroad. Friends of the Earth Norway and ForUM recognize that Cermaq has learned from the fish crisis in Chile and has made positive changes in procedures to prevent fish disease in Chile and in Cermaqs global business. The parties have also agreed upon principles for responsible aquaculture, indigenous peoples rights, human rights, workers rights and sustainability reporting. In addition they have agreed that the complaint included claims about Cermaq and its business that have been refuted and that future cooperation and contacts shall be based on mutual trust and clarification of facts.
Following the successful conclusion of the mediation process and the joint statement by the parties, the Norwegian NCP concluded the complaint and made no further examination of the allegations in the complaint. The parties have been invited to meet with the NCP again in April 2012, to give an update on the implementation of the joint statement.
The strong role played by the NCP of the country in which the company is headquartered (i.e. Norway), as well as the direct participation of the companys CEO in the mediated negotiations appear to be crucial factors in the successful outcome achieved.
Approximately one year after the agreement was reached, the complainants commissioned a study to analyse the impact of the case and agreement on local communities and the environment in Chile. The study recognises thatCermaqhas stated its ambition to become a leader in corporate responsibility in its sector, but concludes that Cermaq failed to change its operations in Chile accordingly. The study finds that little has been done to improve the conditions of workers, specifically women and subcontracted workers, at production facilities. Moreover, the study maintains that Cermaq has done little to improve communication with trade unions, nor has it convincingly addressed disputes with indigenous communities.There is little evidence that Cermaq conducted a thorough environmental risk assessment before expanding its operations to other areas. Two years after signing the joint statement, much remains to be done before the company can call itself a leader in corporate responsibility. The follow-up report is annexed to OECD Watchs submission to the 2013 NCP meeting and available on the OECD Watch website.