The MSC Chain of Custody (CoC) code gives certified companies in the supply chain and the end consumer assurance that products displaying the code are from a certified fishery. These codes are assigned by certifiers to their certified clients to demonstrate they have obtained MSC CoC. Companies can then use them to identify products as MSC for internal and external traceability purposes, e.g. on invoices, purchase orders and packaging. When a certificate holder also holds a license agreement with MSCI, they must use the MSC CoC code in conjunction with our trademarks, i.e. wherever they apply the ecolabel – which can be on-product and off-product uses (such as posters, websites or catalogues).

Feedback from certified companies has increased in recent years, asking the MSC to reconsider the existing system of allocating CoC codes. Certified companies point to the following issues as key drivers for MSC-generated CoCcodes.

  • High costs to redesign and reprint packaging and other materials with a new CoC code. This is particularly challenging for companies that wish to change certifiers periodically, or companies where different sites may have a different certification body (e.g. due to acquisitions or geographic limitations)
  • Flawed certificate transfers leading to gaps in valid CoC certificate numbers
  • Confusion created within the supply chain with regards to which CoC code is valid
  • Certifiers not adhering to the CoC code formula specified in the Certification Requirements, resulting in a wide variety of codes, some of which are extremely lengthy

Feedback from certificate holders propelled the MSC to present these challenges internally to the Supply Chain Working Group in December 2012. The result was a prioritised project for action. Since then, one of the largest North American certifiers, NSF, withdrew from conducting MSC CoC audits and issuing MSC CoC certificates in June 2013. This certifier was responsible for nearly 300 certificate holders, representing 12% of certificate holders globally. The majority of these companies have now switched their certificate to another certifier – amplifying the number of certificate holders likely to face the issues described above.

Although these problems are most apparent with the 1200 licensees using the MSC trademarks on their products, all certificate holders (out of 2400 companies) that use the CoC code to identify their product as certified, both internally and externally to the organisation, are also affected when they change certifier. This makes it harder for companies to transition to a new certifier, and reduces the competition culture that would lead to improved services across certification bodies. As these problems stem from the fact that CoC codes are generated by certifiers (of which there are 23 different companies), changing the entire CoC code system (as recommended here) would address the root cause of the problem.