Two years after Greenpeace launched a campaign demanding Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company, take action to eliminate exploitative and unsustainable practices from its supply chains, the two organizations have finally put their long-running conflict to rest.
In a joint press release, Greenpeace and Thai Union presented a comprehensive package of reforms and commitments that the tuna company will take in order to reduce both its environmental and social impacts.
The tuna industry is at high risk for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that undermines fisheries management and enforcement efforts. Tuna species are among the most overfished predatory fish and a lack of monitoring, control and surveillance and inadequate procurement policies and supplier requirements further compounds the problem.
The nature of the tuna sector and its practices also creates a prime environment for human rights violations of workers at sea.
While efforts are being made to guide the sector down a more sustainable, ethical path, including the recent launch of the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration — which Thai Union did, indeed, sign — the industry still has a long way to go. The new agreement between Greenpeace and Thai Union, however, marks an important step forward.
“This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry,” said Bunny McDiarmid, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “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."
Thai Union’s new commitments build upon its sustainability strategy SeaChange and include efforts to support best practice fisheries, improve other fisheries, reduce illegal and unethical practices in its global supply chains and bring more responsibly caught tuna to market.
Greenpeace and Thai Union have agreed to meet every six months to assess the company’s progress and implementation. At the conclusion of 2018, an independent third-party will review progress to-date on the following commitments:
- Reduce the number of fish aggregating devices (FADs), which result in the catch of non-targeted marine species, such as sharks, turtles and juvenile tuna, used globally in its supply chains by 50 percent by 2020, while doubling the amount of verifiable FAD-free fish in the same period.
- Extend its current moratorium on at-sea transshipment across its entire global supply chain unless new strict conditions are met by suppliers. Transshipment, which involves transferring catch from smaller boats to cargo ships and restocking and refueling at sea, enables vessels to continue fishing for months or years at a time and has the potential to facilitate illegal activity.
- Ensure independent observers are present on all longline vessels transshipping at sea to inspect and report on potential labor abuse and ensure 100 percent human or electronic observer coverage across all tuna longline vessels it sources from.
- Develop a comprehensive code of conduct for all vessels in its supply chains, to complement the existing and strengthened Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct, to help ensure workers at sea are being treated humanely and fairly and third party independent audits with publically accessible results and clear timelines to ensure its requirements are being met.
- Shift significant portions of longline caught tuna to pole and line or troll-caught tuna by 2020 and put strong requirements in place to help reduce by catch.
- Move to full digital traceability, allowing people to track their tuna back to the vessel it was caught on and identify the fishing method used.
“In an industry that has been characterized by high levels of exploitation, labor 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. Ultimately, the ITF wants to see enforceable collective bargaining agreements that protect the rights of fishers, vessel crews, and all workers throughout the supply chain,” said Johnny Hansen, Chair of the Internaitonal Transport Workers Federation Fisheries Section (ITF).
Thai Union owns well-known brands globally, including Chicken of the Sea, John West, Petit Navire, Mareblu and Sealect. In December of last year, the company rolled out its new tuna strategy for all of its brands, which included the establishment of 11 new Fishery Improvement Projects around the world, a commitment to MSC-certified tuna and a promise to publicly report on its progress against the 2020 goals on a regular basis.
The move was applauded by Greenpeace, but the organization remained skeptical. “The challenge now is ensuring that the company makes investments that amount to real change for oceans and workers. To commit to MSC-certified tuna, following a highly critical WWF report about the reliability of that ecolabel, raises concerns. Real progress on tuna requires that companies like Thai Union move beyond unreliable ecolabels to take decisive action to eliminate the worst practices and problems from their supply chains,” Greenpeace Global Seafood Markets Project Leader Graham Forbes said in a statement at the time.
The new partnership between the two signals that Thai Union is serious about making good on its promises.
“Improving working conditions in seafood will require fundamental changes that both end abusive practices and establish systems that allow workers to protect their own rights. This agreement is an important step forward toward both of those goals and shows that companies can make positive change when they work with civil society to envision better ways of doing business. We’ll be watching the outcomes of this agreement closely to see how the commitments in this document are implemented to promote a more just global tuna trade,” said Abby McGill, Campaigns Director for the International Labor Rights Forum.