The MSC Assurance System

The MSC’s effective assurance system underpins consistent and impartial assessments that ensure certificate holders (fisheries and supply chain businesses) meet requirements in the Standard, and contribute to MSC’s theory of change. The assurance system keeps MSC's ‘blue tick’ credible.

The MSC operates a third party certification model with further independent oversight by Assurance Services International. Audits and assessments are conducted by Conformity Assessments Bodies (CABs).

The assurance system reflects best practice in sustainability auditing with many safeguards in place.

The MSC Assurance System is defined by the following standards, codes and guidelines and the MSC’s own experience over the past 20 years:

  • ISO 17065:2012 Conformity assessment: Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services, (CABs comply with this standard to manage the certification process)
  • ISO 17011:2004/2017 Conformity assessment: Requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies (ASI complies with this standard to accredit CABs)
  • ISO 19011: 2018 Guidelines for auditing management systems (auditors use this guidance to conduct audits and requirements on relevant qualification for understanding this document have been increased)
  • FAO Ecolabelling Guidelines 2009
  • GSSI Benchmarking Tool: 2015 (recognition in 2017)
  • ISEAL Assurance Code: 2012.2018 (full compliance at last ISEAL audit 2018, includes independent assessment, peer review, and self-assessment)
  • MSC Innovation: Participation, multiple rounds of stakeholder comments on assessments and publication of reports
  • MSC Innovation: Peer Review College, sourcing qualified independent experts to review scientific judgement and scoring in fishery reports
  • MSC Innovation: Objections Procedure, allowing stakeholders further opportunity to input on certification decisions after final determination by the CAB
  • MSC Innovation: DNA testing and investigations in the supply chain

MSC assurance activities

ItemDescription
Third-party assessment Third-party CABs complete fisheries assessments against the MSC Fisheries Certification Requirements.
Accreditation of CABs by Assurance
Services International (ASI)
ASI offers international accreditation to CABs wishing to audit against voluntary sustainability standards. Without ASI accreditation that must be renewed every 5 years, CABs are unable to complete MSC fisheries or Chain of Custody assessments. ASI are ISO 17011 compliant, with periodic peer review.
Auditor competency requirements

Annex PC of the Fisheries Certification Requirements and MSC General Certification Requirements Section 6 lists detailed competency requirements that must be met for auditors to complete an MSC assessment.

All lead assessors and supply chain auditors must pass a training based on ISO 19011
CAB Online Training As part of the competency requirements, auditors must regularly complete and pass modules on the MSC Online Training platform.
CAB Calibration Exercises Periodically, MSC runs calibration workshops with auditors, whereby auditors complete a scoring exercise on a set of Performance Indicators and compare results.
The MSC hosts an annual tripartite meeting bringing together CABs, ASI, and the MSC to discuss performance.
Conflict of Interest Assessors, auditors and the CAB cannot have a conflict of interest before taking on an assessment (e.g. if they’ve provided consultancy to the CAB, they cannot provide the full assessment).
CAB Impartiality Committee CABs must establish an impartiality committee to conduct annual reviews of assessment, audit, certification, and decision-making processes of the CAB (GCR v2.1 5.1).
CAB Complaints All CABs are required to have a complaints procedure to manage potential issues with CAB activities. These complaints are acknowledged, investigated, and responded to. If they are unresolved, they are investigated by ASI.
ASI Incidents ASI Incidents are a recently developed tool which allow any stakeholders to anonymously report an issue for ASI to look into and determine the level of response needed.
ASI Complaints If a complainant has previously submitted a formal complaint to a CAB, they may raise this complaint to ASI if they weren’t satisfied with the outcome. ASI will investigate this complaint and compliance of the certificate holder, with a focus on CAB performance.
MSC Complaints The MSC has a publicly available complaints procedure to investigate complaints made about MSC activity.
The MSC Quality Management System The MSC operates an internal quality management system (including procedures for variations, interpretations, and technical oversight).