Greenpeace Outraged Over Thai Tuna Fleet

In a new report released earlier this month, the environmentalist NGO Greenpeace has accused the global tuna industry of being “out of control” and emptying the oceans of fish, devastating other marine life and keeping workers in slavery.

The primary target for Greenpeace’s wrath is Thai Union Group, the world’s largest tuna fishery company, which produces the John West and Chicken of the Sea brands. Greenpeace announced it was launching a global campaign to educate consumers to demand that Thai Union Group address environmental and labor abuse in their supply chains.

Thai Union is no stranger to controversy. It has a truly horrendous reputation. In addition to accusations of depredating the seas, it has been accused of condoning the use of “slave labor” in its supply chain, allegedly by impressing luckless Burmese and Cambodian fishermen into service. In July, the New York Times, published an article citing a former slave fisherman who said he had been held captive on a vessel supplying a mother ship that was selling to Thai Union’s canning operation in the Thai isthmus city of Songkla.

Although it is a member of the United Nations Global Compact and a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, the conglomerate is considered by environmentalists to be one of the major forces emptying the oceans of tuna at a time when global supervision of the fishery continues to be regarded as ineffective.

The numbers of Bluefin tuna in the northern Pacific have been devastated, falling by 96 percent, according to research provided by the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center. Despite that, giant fishery factories are plying the Pacific, hunting for fish that have gone almost out of existence and awakening concerns of a complete collapse of the fishery. In 2014, the Japan Fisheries Agency announced it would cut the country’s allowable haul of Pacific immature Bluefin by 50 percent in 2015 out of alarm over plummeting stocks.

Tuna fleets employ purse seines --, giant nets that encircle whole schools of fish, and long lines, fishing lines that can be dozens of miles long carrying thousands of hooks, that both capture marine life indiscriminately and are among the most destructive tuna fishing practices, according to a similar report by the environmental NGO Mongabay, which estimated that as much as 35 percent of the catch from longlines may be bycatch – marine life other than tuna, which is nonetheless destroyed as well.

Overall Thailand is the world’s third-largest exporter of fish and fishery products, with exports valued at US$7 billion in 2010. Only China and Norway export more. Thailand fishing companies have improved the size of catches against what is considered to be almost a nonexistent regulatory system. Many species beyond the Bluefin are believed to be nearing extinction both in the gulf of Thailand and the Andaman sea as more and more trawlers put out to sea.

Thai Union, which owns the Chicken of the Sea and John West international brands, is Thailand’s largest canned and frozen tuna producers, with plants in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States. It is one of the world’s largest tuna producers. It also owns Petit Navire, Parmentier, Mareblu and Century internationally as well as Sealect, Fisho and Belotta domestically.

Although Thai Union has issued press releases saying it is possible to use computer technology to allow consumers to trace the origin of each can of tuna back to its catch, Greenpeace called those “unsubstantiated PR statements” and said we need immediate change on the water. Our oceans, seafood workers and consumers deserve better.

Workers, according to the Greenpeace report, “have reported being beaten, abused and forced to work on ships for months or years at a time. Fishing vessels use methods that wreak havoc on marine life. Tuna is even being stored in the same shipping containers as the dirty fuel the ships use, then sold to consumers.”

Whatever the company wants to believe, the report said, “we know from hard-hitting media exposés and our own investigative research that Thai Union is seriously implicated in horrendous human rights and environmental abuses.” The NGO called on the United States, the largest canned tuna consuming country in the world, to take a major role in making things better.

The report singled out Chicken of the Sea, the third most popular brand sold in the United States after Starkist and Kroger, both of which also come in for scathing criticism, as ”one of the most destructive canned tuna brands in the US for both our oceans and industry workers. Chicken of the Sea doesn’t offer a single sustainable and ethical product to US consumers, and its parent company has been repeatedly linked to both human rights and environmental abuses around the world. It’s time for Chicken of the Sea to step up as an industry leader to ensure its products meet the standards it claims to support.”

Earlier in 2015, Greenpeace issued its canned tuna shopping guide rating 14 tuna fishery companies for their sustainability, treatment of workers and other criteria. The NGO is pushing leading brands and retailers in major markets, including in the United Kingdom and Australia, to clean up their tuna supply chains.

“Sadly, the major U.S. brands are lagging behind,” the report noted. “Now we are up against the world’s largest tuna corporation and its brands around the world. It’s going to take all of us. We know it is worth the fight: when we change Thai Union Group, we will start to change the entire tuna industry. Chicken of the Sea and Thai Union Group need to take immediate steps to clean up their supply chains. But for that to happen, the company’s management has to feel the pressure from people all over the world”