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Briefing

All at sea: An evaluation of company efforts to address modern slavery in Pacific supply chains of canned tuna

Fishing boats in the port of Tamsui, Taipei.

Tuna is one of the world’s most lucrative fish, with many of the world’s fishing grounds located in the Pacific. COVID-19 buying patterns have caused tuna sales to go through the roof, as consumers world-wide have stocked-up on canned tuna. Yet, the fishers in this multi-billion dollar industry face some of the worst abuses encountered in any sector, anywhere. The global fishing sector is rife with allegations of abuse – human trafficking, debt bondage, withheld wages, physical and sexual abuse, extreme sleep deprivation, medical neglect and even murder. In some instances, fishers have reportedly been held captive at sea for years at a time.

We first surveyed 35 canned tuna brands and supermarkets – representing over 80 of the world’s largest canned tuna brands – two years ago. In 2020/21 we approached these companies again to understand how their human rights approaches have changed, particularly given the devastating impacts of COVID-19 on workers worldwide. We found glacial progress on actions which really matter to workers trapped in modern slavery.

We also engaged with fishers, their NGOs and unions to learn of experiences on the ground and find out how these tally with company reports. Our findings reveal that, whilst there has been some progress on policy, essential action remains slow and companies are failing to respond to the heightened risk of harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only does persistent abuse continue to plague the fishing industry, for many of the world’s 40 million fishers, the situation is worsening.

Key Findings

  • Less than a fifth actively map their entire supply chain.
  • Human rights due diligence processes targeting modern slavery remain rare (only eight companies do this, a marginal increase on four in 2018/19).
  • Only one company identified and provided details of specific human rights abuses in its tuna supply chain.
  • Oversight of recruitment is negligible with only 6% of companies reporting having oversight of recruitment processes.
  • Less than 9% have a detailed step-by-step remediation plan.
  • Only one in four companies have taken action to mitigate the heightened modern slavery risks for workers arising as a result of COVID-19.

Recommendations

Companies should:

  • Implement comprehensive human rights due diligence with a specific focus on modern slavery risks.
  • Improve supply chain scrutiny and transparency.
  • Take responsibility for recruitment practices within their supply chains.
  • Prohibit sourcing from vessels engaged in harmful practices such as trans-shipment at sea, reliance on flags of convenience.
  • Support independent observer programs.
  • Take steps to minimise harm to at-risk workers abandoned or stranded as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and take steps to assist.

Governments should:

  • Mandate comprehensive human rights due diligence by companies, throughout their operations and supply chains.

Resources

Read the Report

Explore our latest company survey findings alongside fisher testimonies which expose glacial progress for workers trapped in modern slavery.

Press Release

Read our media summary on how tuna companies are failing to tackle modern slavery in the Pacific.

Survey Responses

Find out more about this and past surveys, and explore the full detail of responses from companies.