Greenpeace and British TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have launched a protest targeting Britain’s largest tuna importer John West and its parent company Thai Union Frozen Products over the firm’s alleged backtracking on promises to source its fish more sustainably.
A group of around 30 people erected a sculpture of a ‘talking can’ of tuna fish outside John West’s headquarters in Liverpool early on Wednesday (28 October).
The installation, which opens up to show films by Fearnley-Whittingstall and others, accuses the company of failing to honour a promise to end “destructive” fishing practices and sustainably source its UK tuna sales.
In April this year, and again in October, the European Commission handed Thailand a ‘yellow card’ over abuses in so-called “IUU” – Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated – fishing. A red card would mean a ban on Thai fishing imports to the EU – one of the country’s largest export industries.
Following Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight TV series in 2011, the company – which imports around 30% of all the tuna consumed in Britain – pledged to progressively reduce its unsustainably caught tuna and eliminate it by the end of 2016.
In a July 2011 statement the company said: “John West will source 100% of its UK tuna sales from properly audited pole and line and/or FAD-free purse seine by the end of 2016.”
“We know we have a long way to go to meet these challenging targets, but we are committed to continuing to place sustainable fishing practices at the heart of our business,” managing director, Paul Reenan, said at the time.
Greenpeace said on Wednesday that the company’s own figures show that with just over one year to go it had so far achieved 2%. “It has broken its promise to consumers to ensure that at least 50% of its tuna was caught sustainably by the end of 2014,” said a spokeswoman.
Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose Fish Fight TV series in 2011 also led to many supermarkets pledging not to use usustainably caught tuna in their own brands, said John West had treated the public with “total contempt”.
“It is not just insulting, it’s extremely cynical. If John West want to restore even a shred of credibility to their tattered reputation, I think they’ve got to do a couple of things pretty much straight away.
“They need to stop using the kind of fish aggregation devices that are ensnaring so much endangered marine life and they need to call on their parent company, Thai Union, to drive out human rights abuses from the Thai fishing industry,” he said.
Other films being shown in the fish sculpture highlight slavery and human trafficking in the Thai fishing industry.
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, said: “Slavery is rife in the Thai fishing industry. Yet again we see the connection between environmental degradation and workers’ rights abuses in a global supply chain. John West and Thai Union need to take responsibility, and play their part in ending slavery and ecological destruction in the Thai seafood industry.”
“John West is owned by Thai Union, one of the biggest seafood companies in the world. Thai Union has been linked to human rights abuses, including bonded labour and even human trafficking. That is something I do not want on my conscience when I am out shopping for tuna,” said Fearnley-Whittingstall.
In a statement, John West said: “John West stands by its sustainability promise 100% to ensure sustainably sourced fish: not endangered or threatened; caught by a well-managed fishery with scientifically based quotas, via responsible fishing methods; and traceable from catch to consumer. It is just as committed to the protection of the marine environment and to sustainable sourcing as it was the day it established the promise in 2011. The only thing that has changed is the methodology it employs to achieve that promise.
“We don’t agree with Greenpeace that pole and line is the only way to achieve sustainability in the tuna industry. Indeed, with significantly less than 10% of all the tuna in the world being caught using the pole and line method, and the global demand for tuna growing, it is clear that quite simply there is not enough pole and line tuna available.”
In a response to the Greenpeace allegations on their website, Thai Union’s head of corporate communications, Sasinan Allmand , said: “Like Greenpeace, we recognise that the reach and reputation of Thai Union and its many consumer brands allows us to lead the industry in effecting real change that will minimise bycatch, protect stock levels, preserve oceans, improve working conditions and ensure safe and legal practices throughout every fishing operation in the world. We have already made considerable progress towards achieving these within our own operations.”
In a statement in March reported by CNN, Khun Thiraphong Chansiri , the company’s president and CEO, said that human trafficking was “utterly unacceptable”. But he added: “We all have to admit that it is difficult to ensure the Thai seafood industry’s supply chain is 100% clean.”