The Pacific region supplies 60% of the world's tuna supply but human rights abuses can occur in its complex supply chains © AFP/Getty Images
The Pacific region supplies 60% of the world's tuna supply but human rights abuses can occur in its complex supply chains © AFP/Getty Images

Slavery policies ‘fig-leaf for abuse’ in tuna supply chains

5 June 2019

The world’s largest tuna companies are failing to support policies with practical action on modern slavery, a report warned.

The report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) said tuna companies have fallen into a pattern of “policy over practice” when it comes to tackling slavery in their supply chains in the Pacific.

The region provides almost 60% of the world’s tuna supply, but as the demand for tuna grows, severe human rights abuses, including forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour are rife, said the BHRRC.

In a survey of 35 canned tuna companies, only 20% reported having mapped out their entire tuna supply chain through all linked suppliers to the source, highlighting the “remote, complex and opaque” nature of tuna supply chains.

Two thirds of surveyed companies had a public human rights policy in place and half reported having a human rights due diligence process. But only four companies reported having due diligence policies and procedures to specifically address the risk of modern slavery in supply chains.

The BHRRC said none of the surveyed companies disclosed having found a single worker in modern slavery in their supply chains, despite recurrent reports of abuse.

The research also found that while 60% of companies have grievance procedures in place for handling complaints and cases for alleged human rights abuses, only six companies extended these mechanisms to supply chain workers.  

“Collaboration with external stakeholders, especially workers in supply chains, is crucial for developing meaningful corporate responses to modern slavery. Some companies are engaging with external stakeholders, but the nature and extent of engagement is unconvincing, and direct collaboration with workers in supply chains and their unions is rare,” it continued.

Three companies were able to demonstrate the work they are doing to consistently improve their approach to human rights and address modern slavery, such as digital traceability of fish and measures designed specifically to protect migrant fishers from abuse.

The report said: “Without urgent and decisive action, there is a danger these public policies become a fig-leaf for abuse, providing the majority of laggard companies with ‘plausible deniability’ while slavery continues unabated.”

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