Aldi the only US grocery retailer to pass Greenpeace tuna-sourcing report

Published on
March 21, 2023
Tuna hanging in a port

Greenpeace USA has given 15 out of 16 of the largest U.S. grocers a failing grade on addressing environmental sustainability and human rights issues in their tuna sourcing.

Its latest report on the subject, “The High Cost of Cheap Tuna,” released in February 2023, gave only Aldi receiving a passing grade. The report was issued as part of a global campaign to protect and conserve tuna stocks by changing consumer attitudes and behavior, according to the NGO.

The retailers receiving failing scores were Ahold Delhaize, Whole Foods, Hy-Vee, Target, Walmart, Sprouts, Albertsons, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Costco, H-E-B, Public, SE Grocers, Wegmans, and Meijer. Aldi received a "D" ranking, reciving a 70 percent score for environmental effort and a 56 percent score for human rights, giving it a 62 percent average. The rest of the retailers all had failing overall percentages, ranging from Ahold Delhaize at 55 percent down to Meijer at 16 percent.

Greenpeace Senior Oceans Campaigner Mallika Talwar, the report's lead author, said a survey containing 39 questions was sent to each of the grocers. Eleven of the retailers returned a completed survey and the other five did not, and were therefore assessed based on research of publicly available information. The scores were weighted with human rights and labor protections accounting for 25 percent of the overall score, followed by tuna procurement policy, traceability, and current sourcing (20 percent each), advocacy and initiatives (10 percent), and customer education and labeling (5 percent).

"The thinking here was, that while it's important for retailers to engage in advocacy, which means advocating for better regulations at the national level or even at the international level, the focus of the change that we want them to make is within their own supply chains," Talwar said. "Often the easiest thing to do is sign a letter asking someone else to change regulations, but that's not enough. We want them to take responsibility for their own supply chains, and the sale of their tuna properly."

Talwar urged U.S. retailers selling tuna to enhance their transparency efforts for their own supply chains and to commit to phasing out sourcing from tuna that has undergone transshipment at sea. Though many of the retailers claim they can trace their tuna right back to the supply vessels, in reality, continued opacity in tuna supply chains is allowing obscuring of labor rights and environment issues, according to Talwar.

“Often, we have people come back to us and say we are asking for things that are ambitious or that they define as unreasonable or not achievable. But I think what we've seen is that when retailers who are at this end of the supply chain, with so much market influence, decide to do something, it becomes possible," Talwar said. "I think that there's plenty of areas of improvement that we've already seen is possible for retailers to improve on. For instance, transparency and traceability, taking a stronger stance against transshipment at sea, and translating the policies that they have [into real action]."

At-sea transshipment at sea is a serious issue that can be directly combated by U.S. retailers, Talwar said.

"We know that transshipment allows the transport of fish to happen away from sort of the view of authorities and any sort of regulatory framework. So it often is associated with either unreported and unregulated fishing and because it allows fishing vessels to stay out at sea for longer periods of time. In many ways, it contributes to the isolation experienced by workers in the seafood supply chain,” Talwar said. "We see transshipment at sea as this critical sort of issue sitting at the intersection of environmental and human rights issues in the tuna supply chain. Therefore, we think it's important for retailers to take a strong stance against transshipment at sea and commit phasing out this practice from their supply chain.”

Talwar acknowledged the failing grades for the retailers were harsh, but said the sourcing policies many of them have enacted are not resulting in real change.

"A lot of them seem to have great or at least to some extent, good policies around human rights and labor protections, but they don't translate into their sourcing practices. We’d really like to see that happen so that they're really sending a strong signal to the entire supply chain that these are things that must be addressed," Talwar said. "What I'd really also like to see is retailers taking responsibility especially when it comes to human rights and labor. We can't have incremental change, because we're talking about people's lives. I really like to see retailers taking a strong stance against these issues, translating that into their sourcing policies. And just taking sort of the steps that we know are possible to really rule out these issues in that supply chain.”

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Program Director Dave Martin said U.S. retailers face barriers to enacting some of the changes demanded by Greenpeace, including a lack of country involvement in the ILO convention. The ILO Convention 188, which was ratified 16 November, 2017, sets international standards for safety, food, accommodation, medical care, employment practices, insurance, and liability on board fishing vessels and at sea. 

“It is important to note that ILO Convention 188 has only been ratified by a handful of countries. Absent are not only key producing countries, but especially key importing and consuming countries, including the United States and the large majority of G7 countries," Martin said. "On the social side, the expectations in the report are grounded in ILO conventions and other international instruments that essentially establish minimum rights for people and workers. In many cases, these conventions were ratified decades ago. Labor and human rights groups have built on this foundation to set higher expectations, but these have largely also been in place for some time. While scoring an 'A' on the report would be a tall order for companies now given where things are, the survey contents provide a good roadmap for companies looking to deliver on their responsibility to protect human rights. It’s good to see that this year’s report showed some progress."

U.S. retailers face huge difficulties in getting reliable information from the fisheries from which they source, in addition to barriers to identifying and collaborating with local human rights, labor, and worker organizations. But they must work harder to apply what leverage they can to improve the current situation in tuna supply chains, Martin said.

“Another barrier of sorts is the general industry reliance on social audits to both detect and remedy problems," Martin said. "The audit approach is known to have shortcomings, particularly when it comes to workers on vessels, and there is a need to broaden due diligence efforts to include effective engagement with workers and worker organizations."

According to the IMARC Group, an international market research company, the tuna market reached USD 42.2 billion (EUR 39.1 billion) in value in 2022 and is expected to increase to USD 50.2 billion (EUR 46.5 billion) in value by 2028.

A 2022 report by the FISH Safety Foundation, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, found more than 100,000 fishing-related deaths occur annually, or the equivalent of around 300 fisher deaths per day, in an industry operating in some of the most remote areas on Earth. 

Photo courtesy of Pavel1964/Shutterstock 

Contributing editor reporting from Hawaii, U.S.A.

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