Confronting Thai Union’s destruction, starting at sea

Ocean lovers are beginning to understand the real cost of some of their favourite seafood products, and they aren’t happy about it.

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Confronting Thai Union’s destruction, starting at sea

Not Just Tuna

Ocean lovers are beginning to understand the real cost of some of their favourite seafood products, and they aren’t happy about it. From forced labour to the ruthless exploitation of our oceans, these once hidden horrors are now centre stage with the world’s biggest tuna company, Thai Union, firmly in the spotlight. Hundreds of thousands of people have added their voice to Greenpeace’s call for TU to clean up its business, and as our ship heads to the Indian Ocean tuna fishing grounds, the voices are about to get louder.

The problem with Thai Union, besides its dirty supply chains, is that the company is everywhere. Canned tuna and other seafood supplied by this company could be, and often is, hiding behind otherwise trusted brands. This, combined with the company’s owned brands such as John West, Mareblu, Petit Navire, Chicken of the Sea and Sealect, means that the canned tuna aisle in many supermarkets is rife with destruction.

From Thailand to Canada, back across the Pacific to New Zealand and then over the Indian Ocean to the Middle East, Europe and beyond, the company’s tentacles stretch into key markets far and wide, including deep into the biggest market for canned tuna – the US.

Massive companies like Mars, owner of popular pet food brand Whiskas, are in biz with Thai Union. Walmart? Supplied by Thai Union. German company Rugen Fisch? Just bought by Thai Union. Iconic sardine brand King Oscar? Owned by Thai Union. Many house brands of retailers in Canada, the US and beyond? Yup, Thai Union.

On the company’s new “Ocean Connect” website it notes that 1 out of every 5 cans of tuna in the world comes from TU. This is a scary statistic for conscious shoppers trying to make better shopping decisions for our oceans and industry workers.

That’s why Greenpeace, along with a growing number of organizations, the public, and investigative journalists are exposing the truth, demanding answers, and pushing for change. We plan on working together to stop unethical and destructive products from hitting shelves and spreading our message about TU further than ever before. The time is now for this industry “leader” to create a real plan to ensure all of its global tuna supply chains are sustainable and the company overall is socially responsible and accountable.

In early April we warned Thai Union shareholders and investors in advance of the company’s AGM in Bangkok about the ongoing dirty secrets behind the company’s shiny façade. Last week through the release of a report, we connected the dots between TU and the Taiwanese fishing fleet that is known for its deplorable exploitation of workers and ocean life. Now, we are heading off to the Indian Ocean tuna fishing grounds to stop destructive fishing at the source, where TU gets a big chunk of its tuna. Overfishing and wasted marine life shouldn’t be allowed to dominate supermarket offerings.

Thai Union’s sustainability programme is called Sea Change, but we certainly have yet to see the change in its sourcing practices and policies that’s desperately needed. While the company has made improvements in its business practices close to home, Sea Change does not yet represent a shift towards a comprehensive and meaningful programme of work across its global business to address the rights of workers and the health of our oceans. Until it does this, another scandalous story about TU could be around the corner, and its brands and buyers will suffer the reputational damage along with it.

Thai Union’s mission is “to be the seafood industry’s leading agent of change, making a real positive difference to our consumers and the way the category is managed.” But will this industry leader step up? Will it move beyond its reactive approach to social responsibility and environmental sustainability? Will it act swiftly and diligently to chart a new, more responsible course for its business, industry workers, our oceans and its customers? Will its major buyers be part of the solution or keep risking their reputation? It looks like we’re about to find out.

By Sarah King, Senior oceans strategist