Responsible tuna fishing as a guarantee of sustainable future

Only 11% of the major corporate suppliers of canned tuna from Pacific for European supermarkets have internal policies for detecting slavery

Only 11% of the major corporate suppliers of canned tuna from Pacific for European supermarkets have internal policies for detecting slavery

According to a study by Deloitte and released by the European tuna fleet, the major corporate suppliers of Western Pacific-fished canned tuna for European supermarkets are especially lax in watching out for and prosecuting violations of workers’ human rights in their tuna production chain, and their processes include no mechanisms of any kind for identifying modern slavery on board tuna vessels, even though such practices are becoming more and more frequent, especially in Asian fleets. In fact, according to the study, only 50% of these suppliers have processes for taking action in matters of human rights.

The study, which looked at 35 major canned tuna marketing groups[1] throughout the entire value chain, shows that only 11% have internal policies and monitoring procedures to detect the risk of slavery, and just 17% have complaint mechanisms for employees built into their processes. The fact that only one of these major groups explicitly prohibits slavery in its supply chain is especially striking.

Contradiction with consumers’ and large supermarkets’ attitude

Deloitte’s study cautions that suppliers’ attitudes are clashing with the trend, as more and more big food retailers embrace sustainable product policies. In the case of fishery products, though, big food distributors are focusing more on environmental and biological sustainability than the kind of sustainability that involves human rights and working conditions.

This would explain why some major European chains are certifying the sustainability of their fishery products with various seals, but none of them are making it mandatory to have observers on board to verify certified fishing activities. Onboard observers are the people responsible for verifying compliance with fishing rules and regulations, and nine of them have died on board vessels in the last five years, according to the Association of Professional Observers. The latest is Eritara Aati Kaierua, an observer from Kiribati who died on board the Taiwanese tuna seining vessel Win Far No 636 under circumstances that are being investigated. As a result, the Win Far No 636 has lost its certification.

Lidl customers, the most concerned over human rights

Deloitte’s study, based on replies from 11,000 customers of large European supermarkets, analyses consumer attitudes on this point and finds that in Spain 76% of consumers have switched to environmentally and socially sustainable fishery products. When asked what the leading factors in defining sustainability are in connection with canned tuna, the customers who value the protection of human rights and working conditions the most are those who shop at Lidl.

In fact, on a scale of 1 to 5, the protection of human rights and decent working conditions comes in on average as fourth among Spanish consumers, with 2.8 points; this score places it behind respect for marine resources (3.6), environmental impact (3.2) and lawfulness of fishing practices (2.9). However, Lidl shoppers consider human rights the third-most important element, giving it a score of 3.1, just slightly behind respect for marine resources and the environment (both of which score 3.5 among Lidl shoppers).

According to OPAGAC director Julio Morón, “In the European tropical tuna fleets, we’ve been complaining for some time that this is the area of the fishing industry that has the most systematic violations of human rights and slavery on board. And it’s something real, and it’s not a freak occurrence. It seems to be a trend, turning into a scourge that may be affecting thousands of sailors, without European consumers being aware of it. And what’s more, we have to bear in mind the latest census of Chinese fishing vessels operating the world over. That’s 17,000 vessels.”

 “Consumer sensitivity to environmental sustainability seems to be gaining ground,” Morón says, “but I think the time has come for the European Union to deal with the humanitarian problem in fishing once and for all. We can’t keep importing fish, and at zero import duty, from companies and vessels that sneer at human lives. Consumers are starting to perceive the situation for what it is, and they’re starting to act against it, and the European tuna fleet is wondering what European politicians are waiting for before they do likewise.”

[1] Mainly from the US, Australia, Thailand, Canada and the Philippines.


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