Suppliers fall short on slavery policiesSuppliers are keen on sustainability labels, but fall short when it comes to human rights, according to OPAGAC

According to a study carried out by Deloitte and released by Spanish tuna operators’ grouping OPAGAC, only 11% of major corporate suppliers of canned tuna from the Pacific region to European outlets have adequate internal policies for detecting slavery within supply chains – and only half have defined human rights processes.

OPAGAC states that the major corporate suppliers of Western Pacific-caught canned tuna for European supermarkets are especially lax in watching out for and prosecuting violations of workers’ human rights in their tuna production chain, and their processes include no mechanisms of any kind for identifying modern slavery on board tuna vessels, even though such practices are becoming more and more frequent, especially in Asian fleets. According to the study, only 50% of these suppliers have processes for taking action in matters of human rights.

“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,” said OPAGAC director Julio Morón.

“It seems to be a trend, turning into a scourge that may be affecting thousands of sailors, without European consumers being aware of it. And what’s more, we have to bear in mind the latest census of Chinese fishing vessels operating the world over. That’s 17,000 vessels.”

The study examined 35 major canned tuna marketing groups throughout the entire value chain, demonstrating that only 11% have internal policies and monitoring procedures to detect the risk of slavery, and just 17% have complaint mechanisms for employees built into their processes. The fact that only one of these major groups explicitly prohibits slavery in its supply chain is especially striking.

The Deloitte study cautions that suppliers’ attitudes are clashing with the trend, as more and more big food retailers embrace sustainable product policies. In the case of fishery products, though, big food distributors are focusing more on environmental and biological sustainability than the kind of sustainability that involves human rights and working conditions.

“Consumer sensitivity to environmental sustainability seems to be gaining ground,” Julio Morón said.

“But I think the time has come for the European Union to deal with the humanitarian problem in fishing once and for all. We can’t keep importing fish, and at zero import duty, from companies and vessels that sneer at human lives. Consumers are starting to perceive the situation for what it is, and they’re starting to act against it, and the European tuna fleet is wondering what European politicians are waiting for before they do likewise.”

He commented that some major European chains are certifying the sustainability of their seafood with various labels, but none of them are making it mandatory to have observers on board to verify certified fishing activities.

“On-board observers are the people responsible for verifying compliance with fishing rules and regulations, and nine of them have died on board vessels in the last five years, according to the Association of Professional Observers. The latest is Eritara Aati Kaierua, an observer from Kiribati who died on board the Taiwanese tuna seining vessel Win Far No 636 under circumstances that are being investigated. As a result, the Win Far No 636 has lost its certification,” he said.

Deloitte’s study, based on replies from 11,000 customers of large European supermarkets, analyses consumer attitudes and finds that in Spain 76% of consumers have switched to environmentally and socially sustainable fishery products. When asked what the leading factors in defining sustainability are in connection with canned tuna, the customers who value the protection of human rights and working conditions the most are those who shop at Lidl.

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