EU supermarkets lack policies for detecting slavery used to produce seafood, Deloitte study finds

Published on
August 5, 2020

European supermarket chains lack policies to discover and take action on slavery issues in their seafood supply chains, a new Deloitte study released by the European tuna fleet has found.

The study analyzed 35 marketers of canned tuna in the European Union and found half have no processes defined for taking action regarding human rights problems in their supply chains, only 17 percent have complaint mechanisms for their employees to report issues, and just 11 percent have internal policies and monitoring procedures in place to detect whether slavery was used to make the products they sell. Just one supermarket group has a policy that expressly prohibits slavery to be in its supply chain, the research group found.

Slavery and other human rights abuses have been a longstanding problem in the global seafood industry, with recent exposes revealing forced labor used by  shrimp processing companies in Southeast Asia – particularly Thailand – as well as onboard Chinese, Taiwanese, and Thai tuna-fishing vessels.

Julio Morón, the director of OPAGAC, an association of nine operators of 47 tuna purse-seiners fishing in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans that is collectively responsible for eight percent of the world’s tuna catch, said without supermarkets doing due diligence, European consumers may be unaware they are buying and eating seafood caught or processed using methods that violate human rights.

“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,” Morón said. “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.”

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, the study found. That lack of oversight is at odds with a growing trend showing growing public concern over the sustainability of the food they eat. But while more and more big food retailers embrace sustainable product policies, the efforts of supermarket companies appear to be focused on environmental and biological sustainability, with less emphasis placed on human rights and social conditions in the food-producing workforce.

Deloitte’s study also surveyed 11,000 customers of large European supermarkets and found many consumers have switched or are giving more serious consideration to purchasing environmentally and socially sustainable products. In Spain, 76 percent of consumers said sustainability was a factor in their purchase of canned tuna. Drilling down, respect for marine resources,  environmental impact, lawfulness of fishing practices, and protection of human rights and decent working conditions, were the top four sustainability issues considered by Spanish customers in purchasing canned tuna.

“Consumer sensitivity to environmental sustainability seems to be gaining ground, but I think the time has come for the European Union to deal with the humanitarian problem in fishing once and for all,” Morón said. “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.”

Photo courtesy of OPAGAC

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