Three-quarters of consumers have switched to sustainable fishery products © AFP/Getty Images
Three-quarters of consumers have switched to sustainable fishery products © AFP/Getty Images

Businesses ignoring ‘scourge’ of slavery in tuna supply chains

17 August 2020

Only half of major suppliers of Pacific tuna to European supermarkets have processes for taking action if human rights violations take place, according to research which has shone a light on serious deficiencies in businesses’ attitudes to ethical practice in their supply chains.

The study, which was released by one of Europe’s leading tuna fleet representative organisations, the Spanish Organizacion de Productores de Atun Congelado (OPAGAC), criticised suppliers’ laxness in watching out for and prosecuting violations of workers’ human rights in their tuna production chain.

It said the study, which looked at 35 major canned tuna marketing groups throughout the entire value chain, found only 11% had internal policies and monitoring procedures to detect the risk of slavery.

The study also found only 17% had complaint mechanisms for employees built into their processes.

The study was based on replies from 11,000 customers of large European supermarkets and also analysed consumer attitudes to suppliers’ policies.

“The fact that only one of these major groups explicitly prohibits slavery in its supply chain is especially striking,” said OPAGAC.

The study said suppliers’ attitudes towards human rights violations were running against the trend for major food retailers to embrace sustainable product policies and for consumers to expect ethical behaviour in product sourcing.

The research found that in Spain, three-quarters (76%) of consumers have switched to environmentally and socially sustainable fishery products.

Suppliers of fishery products are focusing more on environmental and biological sustainability than the kind of sustainability that involves human rights and working conditions, it added.

“This would explain why some major European chains are certifying the sustainability of their fishery products with various seals, but none of them are making it mandatory to have observers on board to verify certified fishing activities,” OPAGAC added.

It said nine onboard observers, who are responsible for verifying compliance with fishing rules and regulations, had died on board vessels in the last five years around the world, according to the Association of Professional Observers.

OPAGAC director Julio Morón said: “In the European tropical tuna fleets, we’ve been complaining for some time that this is the area of the fishing industry that has the most systematic violations of human rights and slavery on board.

“And it’s something real, and it’s not a freak occurrence. It seems to be a trend, turning into a scourge that may be affecting thousands of sailors, without European consumers being aware of it.”

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