SDG Pioneer for a Sustainable Ocean Economy

Darian McBain

Global Director, Corporate Affairs and SustainabilityOrganization 

Thai Union Group PCL 


Heading sustainability efforts at Thai Union Group, a giant seafood company, Darian McBain has honed her answer to anyone who questions the cost of embracing sustainability.

“The cost is very obvious,” she says. “If you overfish, if there's no fish left. You actually won't have a business. So investing now for the future makes complete business sense.”

McBain, a native Australian working in Bangkok, has created and spearheaded Thai Union’s first global sustainability strategy, SeaChange. The set of commitments and initiatives addresses issues facing the seafood industry by contributing to Sustainable Development Goals Nos. 2, 8 and 14 ー addressing hunger; decent work and economic growth; and life below water.

“Thai Union focuses on… zero hunger because we're a food company, and so making sure that people can eat healthy and nutritious food is important, decent work and economic growth because we're a major employer … and finally, SDG 14, life below water, because if we don't have sustainable oceans, we won't have a sustainable seafood industry,” she says.

SeaChange programs reflect the Ten Principles by ensuring responsible sourcing, addressing operations like emissions, water use and energy waste at factories and supporting employees and local communities, she said.

For her work, McBain was selected by the United Nations Global Compact as the 2021 SDG Pioneer for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

“I grew up near the ocean in Australia, and I've always been passionate about the oceans,” says McBain, who trained as an environmental engineer. “I'm happy to say that I've always worked in the environmental field, and working with Thai union and being able to work with the oceans has really helped bring my passion and the work together.”

Thai Union was a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation and Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship, helping establish forums to drive industry-wide sustainability, and in collaboration with the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability, secured agreement among 60 companies across the seafood supply chain on the first-ever sea-to-sale traceability standards.

“One of the most challenging aspects of working with the oceans is really the tragedy of the commons. Nobody owns the oceans,” she says. “So we need to work collaboratively with our competitors, with governments, with civil society. And it's only through all of us working together as you do under the UN SDGs that we can really start to make progress.”

Under McBain’s watch, Thai Union introduced a Code of Conduct for suppliers to improve on-board labor conditions and ethical performances. The company developed an Ethical Migrant Recruitment Policy, and McBain helped set up worker-elected welfare committees to educate workers of their basic rights. 

McBain launched Thai Union’s global tuna commitment with the introduction of fishery improvement projects to ensure healthy stocks and minimize and mitigate impact on the ecosystem. She also set up a partnership with The Nature Conservancy for supply-chain transparency and onboard monitoring on supplier vessels, linked to Thai Union’s sustainability-linked loans with interest rates tied to sustainable performance.

She led an initiative to clean up discarded fishing gear in the ocean and helps run Thai Union’s Green Team of internal sustainability advocates. A 2019 company survey found that the staff perceived sustainability as Thai Union’s biggest strength, she said. 

“I'm so inspired to be able to work with a company that is trying to have a positive impact on the oceans,” she says. 

“There's never an end to this work. There is always something more to do, but there's always new technology and advances and new people to work with, which makes it very dynamic and exciting.”

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