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Thai Union Commits to 100% Sustainable Tuna, But Can It Get There?

Thai Union Group PCL, one of the world’s leading and likely most contentious seafood companies, today announced an ambitious strategy to ensure 100 percent of its branded tuna is sustainably sourced with a commitment of achieving a minimum of 75 percent by 2020.

As part of the new tuna strategy, Thai Union says it will invest $90m in initiatives that will increase the supply of sustainable tuna. This includes establishing 11 new Fishery Improvement Projects (programs to transform fisheries that ensure sustainable fish stocks, minimized environmental impacts, and improved management of the fisheries, or FIPs) around the world.

Thai Union defines sustainably sourced tuna as tuna from fisheries that are either already certified according to the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or are involved in a FIP that is working towards achieving standards required for MSC certification. MSC certification is widely recognized by global experts as the best mark of seafood sustainability.

“Tuna is the most readily available source of protein for millions of people around the world, and at least one billion depend on seafood for nourishment or employment. As a leader in the seafood industry, Thai Union has a responsibility to protect tuna stocks for the good of the world,” said Thiraphong Chansiri, CEO of Thai Union Group. “Our substantial investment will transform tuna sourcing for the entire industry and demonstrates our strong commitment to the sustainability of our oceans.”

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Thai Union’s new tuna commitment will apply to all of its tuna brands sold around the world, including Chicken of the Sea, **Bumble Bee **and Genova (North America), John West (Northern Europe and Middle East), Mareblu (Italy), Petit Navire (France), and SEALECT (Thailand). Each of these brands will be reporting publicly on their progress against the 2020 commitment on a regular basis.

“Currently only 11 tuna fisheries globally are MSC-certified, supplying just 14 percent of globally landed tuna. Our commitment and strategy will have a positive impact on the entire industry by significantly increasing the supply of sustainable tuna available to the seafood processors, retailers and, ultimately, consumers,” said Darian McBain, Ph.D., Thai Union’s global director for sustainable development.

Additional highlights from the new tuna strategy

Alongside investment in new FIPs, Thai Union has developed a number of other initiatives. Thai Union believes that traceability is the backbone of sustainability and is investing in trials of new digital technologies that will improve transparency in the supply chain. With 100 percent digital traceability, the company can address Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing through tracking, ensuring vessels comply with all regulations and monitoring the labor standards that are in place along the supply chain. This also builds on the significant work already underway to ensure safe and legal labor for those working in the industry.

In addition, Thai Union commits to only sourcing from large-scale purse seiners that are registered on the ProActive Vessel Register1. Thai Union will also align all of its global tuna policies and will contribute to academic and scientific research into the effective management of fish stocks. The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) undertakes annual audits to ensure all participating companies comply with ISSF conservation measures, improving the environmental performance, traceability and observation of tuna fishing in international waters.

A fine kettle of fish?

While it’s heartening to see Thai Union attempting to address some of the red flags, particularly in the labor category, that have kept it in Greenpeace's crosshairs for the past few years, its commitment to and reliance on MSC as a benchmark for the sustainability of its catch worldwide may not be without its own flaws. According to a recent leaked report from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - which helped found MSC 20 years ago and is one its key stakeholders - MSC has “troubling systematic flaws” in its certification scheme. The report contends that MSC used “questionable practices” that weakened rules meant to prevent overfishing, potentially making it easier for unsustainable fisheries to gain the coveted and recognizable certification; that MSC has “aggressively pursued global scale growth” (the number of MSC-certified products has increased from less than 1,000 ten years ago to more than 20,000), and in recent years “has begun to reap very large sums from the fishing industry.”

David Agnew, MSC’s science and standards director, said: “The MSC has a valued and longstanding partnership with WWF. We’re disappointed by the unsubstantiated claims made by this paper and find them at odds with WWF’s global engagement and work with the MSC.” Earlier this year, WWF-Australia worked with MSC to help John West Australia make the single biggest brand commitment to help end unsustainable fishing methods within the canned tuna industry in Australia.

WWF says the leaked report was a “draft of an internal paper that has not been reviewed, fact-checked or balanced by diversities of opinion.”

“It’s good to see Thai Union restate its commitment to sustainable tuna. The challenge now is ensuring that the company makes investments that amount to real change for oceans and workers,” Greenpeace Global Seafood Markets Project Leader Graham Forbes said in a statement. “To commit to MSC-certified tuna, following a highly critical WWF report about the reliability of that ecolabel, raises concerns. Real progress on tuna will require that companies like Thai Union move beyond unreliable ecolabels to take decisive action to eliminate the worst practices and problems from their supply chains.”


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