Whole Foods, Seattle Fish respond to reported labor abuses in Hawaii

Published on
September 15, 2016

Major retailers are halting purchasing some Hawaiian seafood following a report released by the Associated Press on 8 September alleging labor abuses aboard Hawaiian commercial fishing vessels.

Whole Foods Market reaffirmed its vow to source seafood from local, day-boat fishing operations in Hawaii, while discontinuing purchases for the time being from vessels using long-line techniques, which were cited by the AP in the report as prone to labor abuses.

“We have zero tolerance for human rights abuses, and addressing labor issues in the seafood industry is of critical importance to us. We are committed to the communities we serve in Hawaii and will continue to source from local, day-boat fishermen with proven fair labor practices, but we will suspend purchases of the small amount of long-line caught fish sourced from the Hawaiian seafood auction until we can ensure the working conditions on these boats align with our core values,” said Whole Foods in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, seafood buyer Seattle Fish Co., based in Colorado, has also issued a statement regarding its current efforts to investigate the report and its supply chain in Hawaii.

“Due to seasonality we have been buying very little fish from Hawaii and will not be buying more until we have confidence that plans are in place to address the concerns raised,” Seattle Fish said in a statement. “We have no wish to damage this important Hawaiian industry, so we urge the industry there to move quickly, put standards in place and help us to support them.”

According to the AP, some commercial boats flying U.S. flags were taking advantage of a federal loophole that allowed the vessels to hire workers from Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations without the proper paperwork and work permits, as long as the workers did not come ashore. These workers were subject to abuses including long working hours, substandard work conditions and low wages, the AP reported.

Seattle Fish is calling for changes to be made to address the issues raised by the AP story.

“We at the Seattle Fish Company were as concerned as anyone to read about the alleged treatment of foreign workers in the Hawaiian fishing industry. We have been working to investigate the reports in order to understand what is actually taking place on the boats supplying the markets from which we buy,” the company said “We understand that fishing is not a 9-5 job and rewards can vary depending upon the success of the catch, but we do expect our whole supply chain to provide acceptable conditions for their workers. To that end, we have called upon the Hawaiian fishing industry to publish and stand behind an appropriate code of practice for their fishing vessels. Once these consistent standards have been set, we will be keen to support fish suppliers who can demonstrate they are adhering to them."

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