What is a stakeholder and why are they so important?
September 29, 2021
At ASC we like our stakeholders, and we like talking about them. In fact, a quick search of the ASC website for the word ‘stakeholder’ returns over 1,500 results.
We’re not the only ones: a search of Google’s Ngram Viewer, which tracks the usage of words and phrases in books over time, shows a very flat, and low, line for nearly two centuries, before an uptick in the 1980s and an almost vertical rise from the mid-90s. Stakeholders are important, and people like to talk about them.
When you use a word that often, it’s easy to forget that maybe not everyone else knows what you’re referring to when you use it.
So, what do we mean when we say we want to hear from our stakeholders, or that we’re making it easier for stakeholders to have input on our decisions? Just who are these stakeholders we can’t stop talking about?
The short answer is: you are. If you’re on our website and reading this you have an interest either ASC, or responsibly farmed seafood, or just environmental and social issues more generally. That makes you a stakeholder in our work. And it means when we ask for feedback from our stakeholders, we’d love to hear from you. Now that we’ve made you feel special, feel free to read on for the longer answer…
Skip this bit if you don’t like history…
Despite its relatively recent growth in popularity, the word ‘stakeholder’ has been around for a long time, and according to the Oxford Dictionary has its roots in gambling. A ‘stake’ meant, as it does now, an amount of money or something else of value that is placed in a bet. The word stakeholder had emerged by the 1700s as a way of describing a person who takes those bets – they are literally the stake holder.
But we can assure you that when we’re talking about stakeholders we aren’t talking about someone we have placed a wager with. Another, less literal, meaning of the word emerged that described a person who has a concern, or interest, in a certain organisation, business, system, or outcome.
That is a lot closer to the meaning we have in mind when we talk about our stakeholders. So by this definition it would be anyone who has an interest in the success of the ASC programme – anyone who wants us to succeed in our mission to drive up standards in aquaculture. As you can imagine, that’s a pretty wide category.
Why stop there?
In fact, we could go even wider. Because ultimately our mission is to work towards a world where everyone has access to the food they need, without placing an intolerable strain on the environment, and without exploiting, mistreating, or ignoring workers and communities. We would argue that anyone who has a stake in that kind of future, also has a stake in the success of the ASC programme.
Stakeholder is sometimes confused with shareholder: someone who has shares in a company and wants to see it make a profit. A shareholder can be a stakeholder, but the two words aren’t the same, and it’s certainly not what we mean when we say stakeholder (we’re an impact organisation, so we don’t have shareholders).
So that’s who our stakeholders are. Why do we talk about them so much? The ASC programme was founded by mass collaboration. Not just between the two NGOs who founded ASC but by the many and diverse experts who took part in the aquaculture dialogues.
These dialogues, over the course of many years, used this diverse experience to create the first ASC standards for responsible aquaculture. The aquaculture industry didn’t create these standards, nor did academics, or NGOs. At least, not on their own. Everyone had a say, and the result was a compromise that reflected these different experiences and points of view.
ASC needs YOU!
That’s something we’ve carried forward in all of our work since. We don’t make changes or additions to the programme without consulting. And we don’t just consult the experts (though of course they are important), we consult anyone who might be affected by the changes.
Some of these stakeholders might be particularly closely affected. For example, if we are changing the requirements in our Seabass Standard, it’s especially important that seabass farmers know about it, as well as their auditors. Or if a farm is being certified near a community, it’s important that community has their say. That’s why sometimes we will explicitly list some of the stakeholder groups we want to hear from.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear from anyone else. Just like the best acceptance speeches at The Oscars don’t have time to thank every single person, you might find it boring if we listed every single group or person we want to hear from, which is why the word ‘stakeholder’ is a useful one.
Because if you are passionate about environmental and social responsibility, the work of the ASC will affect you; you may feel invested in the future decisions and impacts of the ASC. Whichever category you fall into, you are a stakeholder.
So please, next time we ask to hear from our stakeholders, don’t be afraid to get in touch!