Site icon Conservation news

Seafood giant Thai Union commits to clean up supply chains following pressure campaign

  • Said to be the largest tuna company in the world, Thai Union owns a number of popular canned tuna brands sold in markets around the globe, including Chicken of the Sea in North America; John West, Mareblu, and Petit Navire in Europe; and Sealect in the Asia Pacific region.
  • Tuna fleets are pulling the fish out of the ocean faster than tuna populations can recover, and the overuse of fish aggregating devices (FADs) and the practice of transhipment are compounding the problem, as is rampant illega fishing.
  • According to the agreement struck between Thai Union and environmental NGO Greenpeace, which spearheaded the campaign that compelled the company to adopt better sustainability policies, Thai Union’s new commitments are intended “to drive positive change within the industry” by addressing the issues of FADs, longlines, transhipment, and labor abuses.

After a two-year-long campaign that saw nearly 700,000 people call on Thai Union Group to shift to more sustainable and ethical canned tuna, the global seafood giant has committed to a series of reforms to clean up its supply chains.

Said to be the largest tuna company in the world, Thai Union owns a number of popular canned tuna brands sold in markets around the globe, including Chicken of the Sea in North America; John West, Mareblu, and Petit Navire in Europe; and Sealect in the Asia Pacific region.

Overfishing is severely impacting tuna stocks around the world. As one of the most in-demand tuna species, Pacific bluefin have perhaps been hit the worst. Today, just 2.6 percent of the Pacific bluefin’s historical population remains in the wild, according to the most recent stock assessment.

Tuna fleets are pulling the fish out of the ocean faster than tuna populations can recover, and the overuse of fish aggregating devices (FADs) and the practice of transshipment are compounding the problem, as is rampant illegal fishing.

According to the agreement struck between Thai Union and environmental NGO Greenpeace, which spearheaded the campaign that compelled the company to adopt better sustainability policies, Thai Union’s new commitments are intended “to drive positive change within the industry” by addressing the issues of FADs, longlines, transhipment, and labor abuses.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid said that Thai Union’s new commitments not only represent good news for tuna stocks and the health of the world’s oceans, but also for the thousands of laborers involved in the company’s operations — and she called on other seafood companies to follow Thai Union’s example.

“This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life, and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry,” McDiarmid said in a statement. “If Thai Union implements these reforms, it will pressure other industry players to show the same level of ambition and drive much needed change. Now is the time for other companies to step up, and show similar leadership.”

Greenpeace crew recovers a FAD on an expedition in the Indian Ocean to peacefully tackle unsustainable fishing. The marine snare had recently been placed by a Spanish vessel supplying Thai Union. © Will Rose / Greenpeace

Specifically, Thai Union has agreed to cut the number of FADs used in its supply chains in half and to double the amount of verifiable FAD-free fish available under its brands by 2020.

FADs are floating objects that make a fishing vessel’s job easier because fish like to congregate underneath them (a dead whale or a log in the ocean would serve the same purpose through natural means). A variety of other marine species, including sharks and turtles, have also seen population declines due to the use of FADs, which make it significantly more likely those species will end up as unintentional bycatch.

Thai Union has also agreed to ban the practice of at-sea transshipment across its entire global supply chain except in cases where its suppliers are able to meet a number of conditions set by the company. Those conditions include a requirement that independent observers capable of carrying out inspections and reporting on potential labor abuses be present on all longline vessels during transshipments.

Transshipment is when a vessel passes its haul to another ship while still out at sea, which can facilitate the evasion of catch quotas and allows ships to be away from ports and oversight authorities for extended periods of time. Researchers have said in the past that a total ban on the practice of transshipment is vital to stopping illegal fishing, human trafficking, and labor rights abuses on the high seas.

Other measures agreed to by Thai Union aim to replace a significant amount of its tuna caught by longlining with pole and line or troll-caught tuna by 2020, implement a code of conduct for all vessels in its supply chain to ensure workers are treated well, and adopt a digital traceability system so that the origin of its tuna is fully transparent.

“Thai Union looks forward to continuing to execute our SeaChange sustainability strategy, strengthened and enhanced by the joint agreement with Greenpeace and our shared vision for healthy seas now and for future generations,” Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said in a statement.

Johnny Hansen, chair of the International Transport Workers Federation Fisheries Section, applauded the comprehensive set of reforms agreed to by Thai Union.

“In an industry that has been characterised by high levels of exploitation, labour and human rights abuses and an absence of basic workplace rights, this agreement between Thai Union and Greenpeace is a recognition that the overall sustainability of the industry includes not only better fishing practices but a commitment to improve the treatment of its workforce, and ensure its suppliers do the same,” Hansen said in a statement.

Albacore tuna is stacked and weighed before being shipped for processing into canned tuna. Greenpeace is exposing out of control tuna fisheries. Tuna fishing has been linked to shark finning, overfishing and human rights abuses. © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace