Exclusive: Walmart, John West defend Greenpeace tuna claims

Published on
May 4, 2016

Walmart defended its tuna sustainability efforts after Greenpeace alleged that the global retailer’s canned tuna is caught with destructive fishing practices and processed by a company that has been connected to human rights abuses – namely Thai Union Group.

United Kingdom seafood brand John West was also criticized by Greenpeace this week after the NGO’s expedition in the Indian Ocean detected a harmful fish aggregating device (FAD) on one of the supplier’s vessels.

“When unsuspecting Walmart customers reach for a can of Great Value or Chicken of the Sea tuna, they don’t know that a trail of destruction has brought that can from sea to shelf,” Greenpeace said in a release. “Thai Union continues to allow wasteful and destructive fishing practices that attract, capture, and kill other marine life including turtles and sharks – while driving some species of tuna towards extinction.”

In addition, Thai Union has been connected to “shocking labor and human rights abuses in some of its supply chains, with too many workers exploited, abused, and even forced to work on ships for months or years at a time.”

While Walmart spokesperson Kevin Gardner would not confirm whether or not its Great Value tuna is supplied by Thai Union, he defended his company’s sustainable sourcing practices for canned tuna – and its entire seafood supply chain.

“We are committed to finding safe, affordable and sustainable seafood for our customers that does not negatively affect global communities or the environment. Our goal is to build transparency and continuous improvement with the seafood supply chain,” Gardner said.

In fact, by the end of its fiscal year 2016, 100 percent of fresh and frozen, farmed and wild seafood sold at U.S. Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will be sustainably sourced in accordance with Walmart’s seafood policy, according to the spokesperson. The retailer’s sustainable seafood policy covers fresh, frozen and canned tuna products and relies upon third-party certifications and organizations to “guide our suppliers and encourage continuous improvement, providing our customers with sustainable seafood today,” Gardner said.

However, Walmart sells both FAD (fish aggregating device) and FAD-free canned tuna, “to provide our customers the choice to purchase those products,” Gardner said.

Similarly, John West supplies a mix of FAD and FAD-free canned tuna. “We want MSC to guide us on what is the most sustainable mix of FAD and FAD-free. There is no fishing methodology in the world that results in zero bycatch, but we [keep] bycatch from FADs to an absolute minimum,” a spokesperson for John West told SeafoodSource.

The spokesperson also acknowledged that the boat that Greenpeace tracked in the Indian Ocean was using FADs and is a supplier of John West, although “I can’t say if we bought fish from that vessel.”

Meanwhile, Walmart is already working with Greenpeace to improve its seafood sustainability. “We have been engaged in regular dialogue with Greenpeace for the past several years, and we have been working on sustainable seafood for close to 10 years. We released our first sustainable seafood policy in 2006, which covered fresh and frozen seafood. It was refreshed in May 2015 to include canned tuna and was developed with the input of Greenpeace. In addition, it includes our expectations for worker treatment,” the spokesperson said.

Walmart also joined with a coalition of retailers and seafood importers in support of Anti-Slavery International’s Project Issara. “This pilot program is providing a multi-lingual migrant worker hotline and is empowering migrant workers to contribute to improvement in the shrimping industry,” Gardner said.

In addition, Walmart launched a working group of U.S., Canadian and European retailers, restaurants, and industry associations including the National Retail Federation, National Fisheries Institute and National Restaurant Association to advocate for accelerated progress and action related to human trafficking in the seafood industry.

John West continues a dialogue with Greenpeace and is working in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

“Our goal is that, by 2018, all our seafood will be either Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)-certified or engaged in an improvement project to bring it up to these standards,” the company stated on its web site.

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