Thailand: World’s largest canned tuna company linked to slavery
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Thailand: World’s largest canned tuna company linked to slavery

Environmentally destructive, unregulated and guilty of shocking human rights abuses, the tuna industry is a dirty business. The biggest tuna company in the world, Thai Union Group, has become a target of a global campaign by environmental activist organization, Greenpeace, in the hope that exposure and pressure will result in some positive changes from the Thailand-based seafood firm.

Thai Union Group has processing plants in Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States. It encompasses several leading seafood companies under its brand umbrella, including Chicken of the Sea (USA); John West (UK) Petit Navire and Parmentier (France); Mareblu (Italy); as well as top Thai brands Sealect, Fisho and Bellotta.

Greenpeace has already had success pressuring companies in Australia and the UK to clean up their tuna supply chains and wants the world’s largest tuna firm to improve behavior in terms of overfishing, labor abuse, impact on local communities, destructive fishing practices, and using “transshipping” to hide illegal fishing practices.

Thai Union Group linked to slavery at sea

In July a New York Times exposé revealed how fishing boats that supplied catch to Thai Union Group-owned canneries used kidnapped and enslaved migrant workers, mainly from Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma).

Thai Union has come under increased scrutiny since the New York Times piece, as well as a lawsuit against Nestle. Though Thai Union wasn’t the company being sued, the case was predicated on Nestle’s purchasing of fish from a known user of slave labor (TUG) for its Fancy Feast cat food brand.

Here is an extract from the lawsuit (via Undercurrent News):

Instead of true employment, men and boys are sold as slaves by brokers and smugglers to fishing captains in Thai ports in need of labor. Once sold, these men and boys… enter a modern form of indentured servitude where they are required to work to pay off the price the captains paid to purchase them.

Not just tuna, not just people, but dogs and cats too

Greenpeace’s campaign against environmental and human rights abuses in the global tuna industry is named “Not just tuna”, in order to highlight that the issue is not simply one of ecological degradation due to overfishing, but also of health and human rights.

Furthermore, it is not just people who are consuming vast amounts of unethical tuna. Some of the US’s top pet food brands — including Meow Mix, Fancy Feast (Nestle) and Iams — have bought some 28 million pounds of seafood-based cat and dog food from Thai Union Group. The ships it contracts supply forage fish for pet food and agricultural feed for pigs, chickens and farmed fish in the United States.

The U.S. is the largest customer of Thai fish with a large and rapidly growing portion of it destined for the pet food industry. In fact, the average cat in the U.S. eats twice as much food as the average human — around 30 pounds per year.

Greenpeace demands real change, not just polished cans

chicken-of-the-sea-tuna

Pic: Mike Mozart (Flickr CC)

While Thai Union has launched a shiny new PR campaign to improve its image, Greenpeace would like to see concrete changes in industry practices, particularly transparency in order that consumers can be aware of where their product is coming from and how it is sourced.

Thai Union Group’s British John West brand claims on its packaging that its tuna is 100 percent traceable, yet Greenpeace has revealed that, as of now, this is simply not true. Last month 14 brands of canned tuna on the Thai market failed Greenpeace’s tests for sustainability, traceability and equity.