Supply Chained: Human rights abuse in the global tuna industry

21-year-old worker forced to work on a fishing boat with no way to return to his homeland.26 Sep, 2015 © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace

If you are a tuna lover, chances are good that someone who was forced to work for meagre pay — perhaps even under threat of violence — is behind your tuna curry or teriyaki.

Human rights abuses in the tuna industry are serious and require urgent attention. But the world’s largest producer of canned tuna — Thai Union Group — is failing to address them.

Thai Union Group supplies tuna to brands and retailers worldwide: Sealect in Thailand, Chicken of the Sea in the US, John West in the UK, Petite Navire in France and Mareblu in Italy are just a few. But the company has been linked to the most horrific parts of the seafood industry — emptying the oceans of fish, killing of endangered species and even human rights abuse.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s new report Supply Chained: Human Rights Abuse in the Global Tuna Industry, shines a light on the depth of the social problems in the tuna industry and what Thai Union Group isn’t doing to address them.

Burmese fishermen in temporary shelter in Ambon port, Indonesia. Hundreds of trafficked workers are waiting to be sent back home, with many facing an uncertain future. 26 Sep, 2015 © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace 

Problems in the tuna capital of the world

Bangkok, the city I call home, is also home to a massive fishing industry, including Thai Union Group. The city has even been called the tuna capital of the world, though few tuna are fished in Thai waters. Instead, fishing fleets connected to the Thai tuna industry spread out across the ocean and gobble up as much tuna as possible elsewhere.

Travelling great distances, workers in Thailand’s fishing industry spend months or years at sea. But instead of investing in paying higher wages, some Thai ship owners coerce migrants from poorer neighbouring countries. Thailand’s seafood sector has become internationally notorious for human trafficking, debt bondage, child labour and forced labour. Research indicates that these egregious human rights and labour abuses are present in tuna supply chains.

The forced labour and trafficking survivors from the tuna industry that Greenpeace interviewed detailed physical abuses for workers who tried to escape. The tuna fishermen on their vessels were forced to work many hours a day and sometimes for few days without rest for little to no pay, often deprived of basic necessities like showers and regular meals.

It’s hard to imagine how out of control the tuna industry has become. Take a look for yourself here.

 Infographic: This is how abused workers could supply your canned tunaClick here to see the entire infographic.

Thai Union Group’s role

In an industry as out of control as this, it’s essential that Thai Union Group take responsibility for its entire supply chain. But this isn’t happening.

The company also has committed to human rights audits — but only for the 4 percent of tuna caught in Thai waters.

Following an Associated Press exposé earlier this year, Thai Union announced it would drop the supplier connected to labour abuse, but this additional piecemeal response isn’t enough.

And Thai Union has also ended the transfer of fish from one ship to larger shadowy vessels in Thai waters —a process known as transhipment — but has not addressed the same issue for the majority of its tuna which is sourced from other countries. Transhipment at sea exacerbates the risk of human rights abuse by enabling vessels and trapped workers to stay at sea indefinitely.

Taking responsibility

With its huge reach from sea to shelf, Thai Union has the responsibility and the power to help transform canned tuna into a product that’s sustainable and ethically responsible to our oceans and to the people who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.

Tuna fishing has to be done properly, with care to our environment and with respect for human dignity. More than 260,000 people in more than 57 countries have already demanded Thai Union Group and its brands stand up for human rights and our oceans. Join us.

Tara Buakamsri is the Thailand Country Director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia

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