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3 Jun 2019

3/06/19 - Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, BHRRC

Tuna brands are failing to tackle modern slavery in their Pacific supply chains, putting workers in danger

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Read the report 

  • 80% of companies failed to disclose where in the Pacific their tuna comes from. Only 20% say they have mapped their whole supply chains
  • Only 4/35 (11%) said they conduct due diligence specifically to uncover modern slavery in their supply chains
  • Only 3/35 (8%) companies said their modern slavery policies apply to all workers in their supply chains

The Pacific is home to the world’s largest tuna fisheries, providing almost 60% of the world’s tuna catch in an industry worth US$22 billion with growing demand.  

Yet severe human rights abuse is endemic, including forced labour, slavery, human trafficking and child labour, and reports of migrant workers bought and sold as slaves and tossed overboard if they complain or get injured.

Today’s report, Out of Sight: Modern Slavery in Pacific Supply Chains of Canned Tuna, from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, is based on a survey of the world’s largest retail tuna brands. It finds Tuna companies are failing to support their policies with practical action.

Only 4/35 companies (Thai UnionKraft Heinz AustraliaTarget and REWE Group) said they conduct due diligence specifically to uncover modern slavery in their supply chains, while 80% of companies failed to disclose where in the Pacific their tuna comes from, with only 20% saying they have mapped their entire supply chains. 

Amy Sinclair, the report's author and Pacific Researcher at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), said: 

“Modern slavery is endemic in the fishing industry, where the tuna supply chain is remote, complex and opaque. Yet despite years of shocking abuses being exposed, tuna companies are taking little action to protect workers. 

“This report finds that most tuna companies need to significantly step up their efforts to identify, address and prevent modern slavery in their supply networks and provide redress for workers in order to stamp out this abuse.”

She added: “We need to see far more collaboration between brands and external stakeholders, especially workers and their unions, to ensure companies develop, implement and embed meaningful and effective responses to end modern slavery at sea.”

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) surveyed 35 canned tuna companies and supermarkets representing 80 of the world’s largest retail canned tuna brands, between November 2018 and January 2019. Twenty of the 35 companies responded, while 15 failed to respond, including Tesco, Walmart and Costco.

Analysis of their responses, along with publicly available statements, finds tuna companies are generally failing to enforce their human rights standards in their supply chains. Just 3/35 (8%) tuna companies - Thai Union, Simplot and Tri Marine – said they require subcontractors to enforce their modern slavery policies throughout their supply chains.

A majority of tuna companies do not extend their complaints system to supply chain workers. While 60% of companies have a complaints mechanism, only 6/35 (Thai Union, Bumble Bee Foods, Clover Leaf Seafoods, Kaufland, Metro AG and Coles Group) extend this to workers in their supply chains.

Tuna companies are engaging with external stakeholders, but not with workers and their representatives. 43% (15/35) take part in at least one key multi-stakeholder initiative, and 45% (16/35) have policies requiring the company and its suppliers to support the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

But only one company – Thai Union – mentioned engagement with a trade union (International Transport Workers Federation).

However, a few committed tuna companies (Thai UnionBumble Bee Foods and Clover Leaf Seafoods) are working consistently to improve their approach to human rights, with innovative measures to address modern slavery, such as digital traceability of fish, and measures designed specifically to protect migrant fishers from abuse.




Media Contact 

Adam Barnett, Communications Officer, [email protected], +44 (0)7753 975769, +44 (0)20 7636 7774   

Notes to editor  

Modern slavery encompasses the most severe forms of labour exploitation and it is on the rise globally. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year. The Global Slavery Index findings show that even in developed economies like the UK, France and Germany, there are hundreds of thousands of people living in conditions of modern slavery. Yet the prevalence of modern slavery, both in terms of where it is practiced and where victims come from, is concentrated in the global south.  

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive & negative) of over 8,000 companies in over 180 countries making information available on its eight language website. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society. The response rate is over 75% globally. https://www.business-humanrights.org/