Hilton Worldwide has ceased all sales of shark fin in its hotels as of April 1, a decision that shows a growing trend towards more sustainable practises among big businesses.
The global hospitality company first decided to ban all shark fin dishes in its Hong Kong establishments two and a half years ago which has paved the way for their hotels in South East Asia, China and now finally Japan and Korea to do the same.
The ban represents Hilton’s drive to become more sustainable and shows a growing trend among big businesses to focus more on their global social responsibility.
Last year Cathay Pacific and Korean Air ended all shipments of shark fin and shark related products, a decision signifying just how important sustainability is to some large companies.
Vice President of food and beverage operations for Asia Pacific Hilton Worldwide, Markus Schueller has seen the shark fin ban project from the very start and is proud of the end result.
“I feel very passionate about it, I started this project about two and a half years ago and it feels really good now. It was a long journey but it was a very worthwhile journey,” Mr Schueller said.
The ban of shark fin is only the beginning of Hilton’s commitment to the ‘Living Sustainably’ pillar, which is part of the company’s global corporate responsibility strategy.
The Living Sustainably pillar takes into account all areas of water, energy, food, commodities and waste and is considered by Hilton to be equally as important as quality, service and revenue in terms of their performance metrics.
Mr Schueller says his team’s belief in ending the sale of shark fin has helped the ban to become as successful as it is.
“The best thing for me is that we believed in doing this for the right reasons, we want to run a sustainable business,” Mr Schueller said.
“Shark fin is not the be all and end all, it is just the first step in our journey of sustainable sourcing and we have just started.”
Over the last two to three months Mr Schueller has been working alongside World Wildlife Fund to tackle the next big item on the agenda, sustainable seafood.
“The next item of the agenda is sustainable seafood. We have started engaging with larger groups like WWF where we want to work together with them to learn how we should do things differently, what we are doing right today, where we should improve on,” Mr Schueller said.
Mr Schueller says the ban has been a gradual and measured process that has not resulted in any visible loss in revenue or customer base.
“We are not loosing money because we are going about it the right way. We are phasing it out, we are telling people about it and giving people alternatives,” Mr Schueller said.
Marine campaigns officer at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Tooni Mahto, says Hilton’s ban on shark fin sends a clear message to countries where shark fin is still widely consumed.
“What Hilton is actually saying to people is that it is acceptable to look at alternatives to serving shark fin at those key functions where it was traditionally served and saying there are other ways of ensuring that the respect attached to the dish is maintained,” Ms Mahto said.
The process and trade of shark fin is no longer just an animal welfare issue, but it is also a population sustainability issue, a factor that is being utilised by big businesses to gain competitive advantages over one another.
“Businesses are starting to understand that for them to operate and be competitive they need to have this sustainability agenda,” Ms Mahto said.
“They need to show their customers they care about sustainability and a good way to do that is to commit to a ban such as shark fin which has become a really hot topic globally.”
This commitment is significant not only because it highlights the animal rights problems with shark finning, but also because it reduces the sheer number of shark fins being bought and sold globally.
“If there is an economic incentive to stopping live shark finning then it is more likely that countries are going to move away from it.” Ms Mahto said.
“That is exactly where places like the Hilton come in, they have to be saying, ‘ok we don’t want anything of this nature,’ you know, showing that businesses are engaged with the issue around shark finning.”
Globally this ban will have an impact on the international shark fin market due to the sheer size of Hilton, however Ms Mahto fears the ban is not likely to have any impact on the sale and trade of shark fin products in Australia.
“In Australia it is very much within individual restaurants where shark fin is sold so I am less sure that Hilton’s decision is going to have that much of an influence in the sale of shark fin and shark fin products in Australia,” Ms Mahto says.
Ms Mahto says that although Australian legislation protects sharks and has banned live shark finning, the lack of trade data means the volume and species of shark fin being exported and imported is unclear.
“At the moment we have no idea how much Australia is really exporting and importing and we don’t know what species any of the shark fins are from,” Ms Mahto said.
“We still have a huge problem in terms of our long term goal of protecting shark populations and species around Australia and around the world.”
Photo: shark fins, courtesy Planetsave