BANNING SHARK FIN SOUP: Obtain Private Sector Support Through CSR

FreeShark

 

Companies are increasingly searching for ways to show that they are good corporate citizens. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for a while but many companies struggle to hit the mark as they seek sound causes that match their corporate profile and align with sustainability efforts. Many are also not familiar with the social development scene and they don’t know what organizations exist with whom they could form a partnership. This presents an opportunity for social development organizations that can tap into CSR to find potential support partners.

A good example of successful CSR leverage is the Fin Free Thailand initiative. Fin Free Thailand is a campaign that encourages hotels and restaurants to stop serving shark fin, in order to protect endangered sharks, marine ecosystems, and people’s health. The ‘Blue List’ has been created as part of the initiative, where hotels and restaurant who don’t serve shark fin can sign up and pledge their support. Sheraton Grande in Bangkok is one of the hotels that has joined the Blue List and this is how it happened.

The F&B Director at Sheraton Grande in Bangkok told us shark fin was a hot topic a few years ago, often talked about in the hospitality industry through blogs and at networking events. At that time Starwood (the company which owns the Sheraton and many other hotel brands) conducted a survey to identify which of its hotels served shark fin, extent of local demand, and the revenues generated. Sheraton Grande was one of the hotels that served shark fin, mainly in connection with Chinese wedding banquets. The revenue was between one to three million Baht (approx. USD 30-90,000) per wedding and Sheraton Grande did on average 30-50 Chinese weddings per year, so we are talking here on an average annual sum of USD 2M. Shark fin soup is a traditional dish at Chinese weddings, served mainly for prestige, has a good margin and guests trust high caliber hotel chefs to prepare it well. At that time each hotel could decide whether or not to sell shark fin based on demand. Despite this, one year later, Sheraton Grande signed an agreement to join Fin Free Thailand and stopped selling shark fin for good. Within about a year, on April 2012, all Starwood’s hotels worldwide stopped serving shark fin.  It was challenging at first, especially for sales staff, needing to explain to their guests the hotel fin free policy and be reminded of the hotel’s promise. Additionally many had to make extra efforts to reach their sale targets to earn their bonus incentives. The hotel did turn down Chinese wedding banquets business when guests would not accept alternatives to shark fin soup. Other hotel customers in the restaurants did not voice any concerns and some applauded the effort and said it was in part the reason they choose the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit.

Joining Fin Free has been a CSR move for Starwood, and for Sheraton Grande it has helped to improve the hotel’s image. And the F&B manager says they have no regrets, “It’s good not to sell shark fin and nice to be able to say that the hotel is registered with Fin Free Thailand. We are being recognized as one of the pioneers and a main contributor to saving the environment.”

 

Daniel Lindgren is the Founder of Rapid Asia, a monitoring & evaluation consultancy based in Bangkok, and can be contacted on:lindgren@rapid-asia.com