The world’s largest canned tuna company, Thai Union Group (TU), has been connected to forced labor, human rights abuses, and environmental devastation. Yesterday, Greenpeace launched a global campaign demanding that TU take urgent and far-reaching steps to clean up its act.
TU and its subsidiary brands, including UK-based John West, primarily catch tuna using fish-aggregating devices (FADs) and longlining. Both of these methods result in high levels of bycatch of sharks, turtles, juvenile tuna, other unwanted fish, and seabirds.
“We can no longer allow Thai Union Group and its brands around the world to sacrifice the world’s oceans and jeopardize workers at sea,” said Greenpeace USA Seafood Markets Lead Graham Forbes. “For far too long Thai Union Group has passed the blame onto others and hidden behind ineffective policies. Until this industry giant takes responsibility and demonstrates real leadership, we will work to ensure that every single customer knows it’s not just tuna that comes with purchasing one of its tainted brands.”
Greenpeace’s new tinned tuna league table evaluated 11 UK brands on a variety of issues, including:
- Fishing methods;
- Sea to shelf traceability;
- Strength of policies to avoid illegally caught fish;
- Wider sustainable sourcing issues, such as using healthy tuna stocks;
- How much information is provided to customers to enable them to make informed choices;
- How much brands are driving positive change in the tuna fisheries more widely; and
- Fairness to people, such as whether local workers involved in tuna fisheries are protected.
John West ranked dead last.
“In 2011 John West guaranteed consumers its tuna would be 100 percent sustainable by 2016 – but with little over a year to go, a pathetic 2 percent of its tuna is caught in a way which minimizes harm to other marine life. It’s clear John West has no intention of keeping its sustainability promise,” said Ariana Densham, Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
Princes tuna received the second-lowest score; the company has not been tied to human rights abuses as TU has, but only 25 percent of its tuna was sustainably sourced despite a 100 percent by 2014 commitment. To press the issue, Greenpeace’s #JustTuna campaign asks consumers to sign a petition to tell brands that they will not buy unsustainable or unjust tuna.
Meanwhile, Aldi met its commitment to only source sustainable tuna a full year early and Tesco moved up the rankings to fourth place. Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury’s received the top three scores.
“It’s a great achievement that all major supermarkets in the UK now only use fully sustainable tuna in their own brand products, caught using the pole and line method or in nets without FADs, which minimizes harm to other animals,” Densham said. “But John West continues to plumb the depths of irresponsibility – flooding our shelves with cheap tuna which comes at a huge cost: the indiscriminate killing of marine life. It’s also undermining the world-leading standard set by UK supermarkets.”
Greenpeace’s campaign against TU is a multi-pronged, global effort. Greenpeace USA has requested a detailed work plan and schedule for moving toward lower-impact fishing techniques and increased oversight, traceability and transparency at sea from TU. Greenpeace Southeast Asia sent an investor brief to TU’s shareholders informing them on reputational and legal risks — three class-action lawsuits have already named TU as a supplier of fish caught via forced labor.
Greenpeace’s is urging consumers who wish to take action are to sign the petition, choose brands at the top of the league table, share the league table, and tweet pictures of #JustTuna choices.