By Annie Leonard
For years, the seafood industry has operated out of sight and, for many people, out of mind. Companies have profited off of slave labor, human rights abuses, overfishing of our oceans and the needless slaughter of marine animals. Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company and owner of Chicken of the Sea, has historically been one of the worst offenders. It has been implicated in human rights investigations by the Associated Press, the New York Times and Greenpeace. Its supply vessels have used the most destructive and indiscriminate fishing methods and the company has refused to take meaningful action to change. Until now.
This month, Thai Union committed to far-reaching reforms that will help clean up its seafood supply chains starting immediately. It has agreed to measures that will improve traceability from sea to plate, increase support for more sustainable fisheries, strengthen labor standards for all vessels supplying the company, significantly scale back destructive fishing methods, and extend a global moratorium on transshipment at sea – the process of moving fish from one vessel to another often associated with illegal fishing and labor abuse – if suppliers fail to meet strict standards.
These are significant improvements that Greenpeace, labor unions, NGOs, and people all over the world fought incredibly hard for. And while they are only commitments, we all intend to ensure the company implements this change or be held accountable. The spotlight is now shining brightly for real action.
When Greenpeace launched a global campaign to put pressure on Thai Union in 2015, we recognized that if the company changed, the entire seafood industry would improve as a result. Thai Union is responsible for one out of every five cans of tuna on store shelves around the world. It was named a ‘keystone actor’ by academics for its disproportionately large impact on our oceans. While Thai Union was not the only problematic company, it was emblematic of the destruction seen across the entire industry for decades.
Thai Union’s recent commitments to significantly reform its supply chains send a resounding signal to the rest of the seafood industry that the age of destruction is over. No longer can companies overfish our oceans with impunity, or rely on illegal fishing to sell their products, or use slave labor to turn a profit. Thai Union’s commitments won’t save our oceans on their own, but they do set a precedent for other massive companies to clean up their ways if we maintain the pressure.
The best part is that Thai Union’s reforms will tackle both ocean destruction and labor abuse. For years, many have peddled the false narrative that what’s good for the environment is not good for workers. The truth is, at sea, many of the changes that help combat overfishing and illegal fishing also help to protect against human rights and labor abuses. As an environmental organization, it is our duty to fight for what’s best for both our world and the people who live and work on it. This victory proves it is not only possible, but often more powerful to do both at the same time.
Thai Union has promised to make significant changes that will help to ensure fishing vessels are safer for workers. By requiring independent observers and electronic monitoring, the company will shine a light on practices that are often out of sight. Thai Union will also develop a code of conduct with an auditable standard for all vessels in its supply chains, and through third party independent audits with publicly accessible results and clear timelines, will ensure those requirements are being met. The audits start in just nine months.
Thai Union has also committed to support expanding a zero recruitment fee policy across its global supply chain, combatting a system of indentured servitude through which some fishermen work months or even years without ever making any money. And through its moratorium on transshipment at sea, the company will ensure that workers are fishing for shorter periods of time and that vessels are following strict standards. Independent human observers will be required on vessels taking part in at sea transshipments to ensure environmental and labor compliance.
These changes also help to combat illegal fishing, overfishing, and the killing of marine animals. Workers will be safer, as will sharks, sea turtles and seabirds.
It’s going to take the labor and environmental movements continuing to stand side by side to bring the reforms we desperately need in the seafood industry, and throughout the other major environmental fights around the globe. We are more powerful when we stand alongside one another, and that is evident through this Thai Union victory. What’s good for workers is often also good for our planet – and we must continue to recognize that to truly create a green and just world.
Annie Leonard is Executive Director of Greenpeace