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Greenpeace: The Truth Behind the World's Largest Tuna Company

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Greenpeace launched a global campaign today demanding that the world’s largest canned tuna company, Thai Union Group (TUG), take urgent and far-reaching steps to eliminate labor abuse and destructive, wasteful fishing practices from its supply chains. In the U.S., TUG owns Chicken of the Sea, which also faces mounting pressure from both consumers and concerned environmental, labor and human rights advocates to clean up its act.

“We can no longer allow Thai Union Group and its brands around the world, including Chicken of the Sea, to sacrifice the world’s oceans and jeopardize workers at sea,” said Greenpeace USA Seafood Markets Lead Graham Forbes. “For far too long Thai Union Group has passed the blame onto others and hidden behind ineffective policies. Until this industry giant takes responsibility and demonstrates real leadership, we will work to ensure that every single customer knows it’s not just tuna that comes with buying one of its tainted brands.”

In response to investigations and media reports from the New York Times and Associated Press connecting TUG to human rights abuses, forced labor and destructive fishing methods, Greenpeace USA on Friday contacted the company to demand a detailed work plan and schedule for moving toward lower-impact fishing techniques and increased oversight, traceability and transparency at sea. TUG and its subsidiary brands primarily catch tuna using two fishing methods, purse seining with fish aggregating devices (FADs) and longlining. These methods result in high levels of sharks, turtles, juvenile tuna and seabirds caught unintentionally (known as bycatch) and are often associated with illegal fishing and violations of human and workers’ rights. 

Greenpeace Southeast Asia also sent an investor brief to Thai Union Group shareholders to inform them of the risks associated with the company. Implications in human rights abuses and forced labor have brought reputational and legal risks, as three class-action lawsuits have already named TUG as the supplier of fish caught via forced labor and used in Chicken of the Sea canned tuna and pet food brands in the U.S. The brief also warned that destructive fishing methods and overfishing threaten the company’s ability to sustain revenue into the future.

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“Chicken of the Sea is one of the worst U.S. canned tuna brands on both sustainability and human rights,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaigner Kate Melges. “As the largest brand owned by the largest canned tuna company in the world, Thai Union Group, it’s critical that Chicken of the Sea step up as a leader to ensure its products meet the standards it claims to support. That means working urgently to change to lower-impact fishing methods and guarantee oversight and traceability at sea.” 

On Thursday, the European Union (EU) issued a yellow card to Taiwan for its failure to take action against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is often associated with labor abuses. Taiwanese flagged and owned tuna vessels supply TUG brands around the world. Earlier this year, the EU also issued a yellow card to Thailand for its failures on IUU fishing. As the largest seafood company in Thailand, TUG’s actions could help determine whether the country is issued a red card, which would mean a complete ban of Thai fisheries products in the EU market. 

In the U.S., the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report maintained Thailand at the bottom-ranked tier 3 level and noted the Thai fishing industry as a problem area. The annual report places countries onto one of three tiers based on the extent of their efforts to comply with "minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking." In addition to action from Thailand’s government, industry giants like TUG could help avoid future sanctions by taking steps to clean up seafood supply chains.

Greenpeace has ranked Thai Union Group brands in its canned tuna rankings for major markets around the world. In the U.S., TUG’s Chicken of the Sea brand failed the most recent canned tuna ranking on both sustainability and human rights.

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