Stepping Up – What can one Australian do? Introducing Dr Darian McBain 

 

In November 2018 Dr. Darian McBain, Thai Union’s Global Director for Sustainable Development, spoke at the Thomson Reuters’ Foundation Trust Conference. Thai Union was highly commended by judges for the Stop Slavery Award. Darian has been working at Thai Union since 2015. It is one of the world’s largest companies processing seafood. It is not a union. Darian is Australian and based at the company’s headquarters in Bangkok. She has been awarded seven International awards for sustainability. She was named the Business Leader of the Year from Ethical Corporation at the 10th responsible business awards.  

She has addressed a high-level panel on human rights at the United Nations in New York. A short while before, her employer, seafood producer Thai Union, was named top in its category in the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability Index. 

 

Early in 2018 Darian was named Edie’s Sustainability Leader of the Year. The Edie awards are designed to “celebrate sustainability excellence and innovation, from the largest multi-national businesses to the smallest micro-organizations.” “Darian is everything you would want in a sustainability leader,” the judges said. “She has worked tirelessly right across the business, socially and environmentally, and has had a huge, tangible impact. And this isn’t just incremental change; Darian has ignited a global shift in thinking around sustainability within the seafood sector.” 

 

When asked in an interview about what was needed to be successful as a sustainability leader offered some key points that could be abbreviated into three letters: POP; The right Preparation, Opportunities, and Personal attributes. 

Darian’s preparation has a longer history than Thai Union. She is trained as an engineer and scientist (UNSW) which taught her problem-solving. “As an engineer and scientist, you have a theory and you want to test that theory to prove whether it’s right or not. If it’s incorrect, you ask what you need to adjust to change it,” she says. 

After heading up the UK’s National Health Service ethical explorations into their supply chains; she returned to Australia to do a PhD at Sydney University. Her area of study covered, ‘How can you know what happens in a supply chain without actually going there?’ From this she produced numerous articles and guides for supply chain practitioners. 

She then headed up projects on palm oil, timber and conflict minerals, to name but a few. No sooner had she started at Thai Union, than the NYTimes did an article titled “Sea Slaves ¬– the human misery that feeds pets and livestock” referring to the processing of seafood products for pet food.  

Thai Union had 50,000 employees and annual sales worth over A$3 billion, there was much to lose, and this created an opportunity and necessity to deal with the human rights – including slavery. She saw it as a great opportunity for Thai Union to take leadership and differentiate itself from the other – mainly smaller companies that were far more complicit in overlooking the slavery in their supply chains. She bought together all the company policies and tightened them where needed, created a coherent whole, and branded it the SeaChange® strategy. 

Communications and observations of conditions while at sea has been a major issue with the boats having no communication and therefore workers having no ability to report abuses. Darian worked with a small group of partners and piloted an onboard satellite system which the Thai Government has now mandated all fishing companies to install these on fishing boats for electronic voice and data exchange. 

Darian also led Thai Union to be among the first to abolish the payment of recruitment fees for all workers in its factories and processing plants, a logical resolution to the problem of debt bondage that has been a major contributor to slavery in the industry in Thailand. 

She then made public and transparent what they were doing. It was a time to show honesty and bravery. The decision was effective as it improved their strategy and many (including STOP THE TRAFFIK) of the company’s critics came around to working with Thai Union rather than against it. 

Working with Greenpeace, Thai Union developed a Vessel Code of Conduct with the aim of clarifying workers’ rights while onboard ship. Here Darian also worked with the International Transport Federation, a vocal union body. 

 

Her approach has been to sit down face-to-face with key influencers and help them understand why X, Y or Z change is required.  She says “I don’t really look at it as how far I have come. But rather how much more there is to change.”  Add to this the personal attributes of vision, strategic thinking and persistence which she believes are key to create the culture change needed. 

 

Darian McBain is a world leader in sustainability, and an Australian. We are proud of her! 

 

Fuzz Kitto, fuzz.kitto@stopthetraffik.com.au Co-Director STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia.