New reformist role for Thai Union

Published in http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1242266/new-reformist-role-for-thai-union

Thai Union Group, the world’s largest canned tuna company, is considering changes to its supply chains that could transform the seafood industry forever. Having been a target of investigation over coerced labour in its supply chains, the company is yet to take the significant steps needed to ensure its suppliers refrain from human rights abuses and destruction of the ocean.

Thai Union can show its commitment to leading by immediately addressing transshipment at sea — a shifty practice that is often associated with illegal fishing and human rights abuse.

It has been almost two years since the European Union (EU) gave Thailand a “yellow card” for its failure to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing in the country’s supply chains of seafood that eventually end up as exports to Europe. That warning continues today, as the Thai government has not taken decisive actions needed to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing or address the concerns on compliance with international rules on seafood supply.

Thai Union should not wait for the government to step up but should commit to transformative changes. One way for the company to show its leadership is to end transshipment at sea in its supply chains. In doing so, Thai Union can send a message to both the Thai government and the seafood industry as a whole that any practices associated with human rights abuses and illegal fishing should not and must not be tolerated.

Global Fishing Watch, an non-profit organisation that tracks commercial fishing activities worldwide, recently released a groundbreaking report on transshipment worldwide, observing 90% of the world’s reefer fleets over a four year time frame. The report finds 86,490 instances of potential transshipment. Over 40% of the transshipment incidents happened on the high seas, away from regulations and inspections, and appeared to be associated with patterns of IUU fishing.

Companies that are complicit in abuses of workers in their supply chains also often engage in destructive or illegal fishing, and have little regard for fishery management regulations.

As a direct result of overfishing, many coastal stocks are depleted and vessels must travel further into the high seas to fish. Rather than losing precious fishing time and incurring increased costs of returning to port, the industry increasingly relies on transshipment at sea — where smaller boats refuel, restock, and transfer catch onto larger cargo vessels. This practice turns fishing boats into floating prisons, and enables vessels to hide illegally-caught fish and mistreat crew members. Many trafficked and abused workers are forced to remain at sea with no means of escape for months or even years.

Recently, there have been attempts to remove the worst offenders from the water, which would have a positive effect on the ocean and people. In February 2017, Thailand’s Department of Fisheries (DoF) announced “the strengthening of transshipment control measures”. The announcement requires all Thai distant water fishing vessels to return back to port within 90 days and to ensure that there is no transshipment at sea involved while returning from the Indian ocean.

Thai Union can make a difference. By taking specific and practical steps to reform its operations, the company can be a driving force in continuing the modernisation of the fisheries sector in Thailand and reforming the seafood industry at large.

According to Greenpeace’s 2016 Southeast Asia canned tuna ranking, all tuna brands, including Thai Union, are still falling short on both sustainability and social responsibility issues.

If Thai Union continues to rely on transshipment at sea to operate, then it is reasonable to be concerned about all of its supply chains. Tuna can be commingled from several different sources with relative ease, obfuscating the supply chain and erasing the detection of tuna caught in an illegal or unethical manner.

Recently Mars and Nestle committed to making changes to help ensure their pet food supply chains operate in a manner that does not harm our oceans and does not abuse workers. The companies will address transshipment at sea throughout their pet food supply chains, which puts pressure on Thai Union, a supplier for both companies, to do the same thing.

If Thai Union commits to end at-sea transshipment in its supply chains until the associated problems are addressed, it can help lead the change for the entire industry.

Greenpeace believes a moratorium on transshipment at sea is needed until new standards are agreed upon by the industry and regulators and are demonstrably met using third-party auditors.

It is time for accountability in the global seafood industry, and that can begin with Thai Union.


Tara Buakamsri is Thailand Country Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

About Tara Buakamsri

ordinary people

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