Greenpeace campaign ends as Thai Union agrees to improve fishing and labor practices

Published on
July 13, 2017

After a lengthy campaign by Greenpeace aimed at bringing attention to illegal fishing and labor issues in its supply chain, Thai Union has agreed to work with the environmental nonprofit to improve its business practices.

The Bangkok, Thailand-based seafood giant, which owns brands including Chicken of the Sea and John West, recorded THB 134 billion (USD 3.8 billion, EUR 3.3 billion) in sales in 2016, making it one of the largest seafood companies in the world. In its agreement with Greenpeace, it committed to measures that will tackle illegal fishing and overfishing, as well as improve the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the company’s supply chains.

Thai Union’s new commitments, made as part of its SeaChange sustainability strategy, include the following reforms: 

  • Reducing the number of fish aggregating devices (FADs) used globally in its supply chains by an average of 50 percent by 2020, while doubling the amount of  verifiable FAD-free fish available in markets globally in the same period. 
  • Extend its current moratorium on at-sea transshipment across its entire global supply chain unless new strict conditions are met by suppliers. 
  • Ensure independent observers are present on all longline vessels transshipping at sea to inspect and report on potential labor abuse, and ensure 100 percent human or electronic observer coverage across all tuna longline vessels it sources from.
  • Develop a comprehensive code of conduct for all vessels in its supply chains, to complement the existing and strengthened Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct, to help ensure workers at sea are being treated humanely and fairly, and third party independent audits with publicly accessible results and clear timelines to ensure its requirements are being met.
  • Shift significant portions of longline caught tuna to pole and line or troll-caught tuna by 2020 and implement strong requirements in place to help reduce bycatch. 
  • Move to full digital traceability, allowing people to track their tuna back to the vessel it was caught on and identify the fishing method used.

“Thai Union has fully embraced its role as a leader for positive change as one of the largest seafood companies in the world,” Thai Union CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said. “Thai Union looks forward to continuing to execute our SeaChange sustainability strategy, strengthened and enhanced by the joint agreement with Greenpeace and our shared vision for healthy seas now and for future generations.”

In addition, Greenpeace and Thai Union have agreed to meet every six months to assess the company’s progress in its implementation of reforms, and Thai Union said it will allow an independent third-party to review its progress at the end of 2018. 

“This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life, and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry,” Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid said. “If Thai Union implements these reforms, it will pressure other industry players to show the same level of ambition and drive much needed change. Now is the time for other companies to step up, and show similar leadership.”

Greenpeace said nearly 700,000 people took action through its campaign to urge Thai Union to make reforms to its fishing and labor practices.

Abby McGill, the campaigns director at the International Labor Rights Forum, said the agreement is “an important step forward” for workers in the seafood industry in Asia.

"Improving working conditions in seafood will require fundamental changes that both end abusive practices and establish systems that allow workers to protect their own rights,” McGill said. “This agreement…shows that companies can make positive change when they work with civil society to envision better ways of doing business. We'll be watching the outcomes of this agreement closely to see how the commitments in this document are implemented to promote a more just global tuna trade." 

Trevor Sutton, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the agreement was also steps forward for ecological protection of ocean fauna and human rights.

"Thai Union's endorsement of socially and environmentally responsible practices such as supply chain traceability, collective bargaining, limitations on transshipment, and technological improvements to enhance worker voice are a welcome step forward in the fight against ecological and human rights abuses in the seafood industry,” Sutton said. “The private sector has a central role to play in bringing these abuses to heel, and the agreement between Thai Union and Greenpeace may provide a model for others in the industry to emulate.”

However, Johnny Hansen, chair of the International Transport Workers Federation Fisheries Section, said his group would continue to push for an enforceable collective bargaining agreement for all of the workers in Thai Union’s supply chain.

“For far too long fishers have been an invisible part of the workforce, and this agreement recognises that all suppliers in the seafood supply chain should adhere to an ethical code of conduct,” Hansen said. “In an industry that has been characterised by high levels of exploitation, labour and human rights abuses and an absence of basic workplace rights, this agreement between Thai Union and Greenpeace is a recognition that the overall sustainability of the industry includes not only better fishing practices but a commitment to improve the treatment of its workforce, and ensure its suppliers do the same. Ultimately, the ITF wants to see enforceable collective bargaining agreements that protect the rights of fishers, vessel crews, and all workers throughout the supply chain.”

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