08 November 2023
Ground-breaking ranking of European supermarkets: Willfully ignorant of the tragedy behind their tuna supply
08 November 2023
Today, BLOOM’s report “Willful Ignorance” reveals how supermarkets are complicit in the massacre of marine life and serious human rights violations. What is the crime? Canned tuna sold on supermarket shelves in Europe.
The report establishes an unprecedented ranking of Europe’s biggest supermarkets according to their tropical tuna sourcing practices. The results are indisputable: supermarkets are selling European consumers tuna-based products that are associated with human and ecological tragedies. To put an end to this intolerable brutality, BLOOM is relying on the courts to issue a formal notice to Carrefour for failing in its duty of care, and on the power of the citizen to launch a petition.
As BLOOM’s “TunaGate” campaign unfolds, the disaster that is tropical tuna fishing takes on new dimensions, and its protagonists are brought out into the open. While tuna is the most widely consumed fish in Europe, its capture leads to the unbridled destruction of marine ecosystems and to sordid human rights abuses: forced labor, physical and verbal threats, sexual violence, debt bondage, withholding and non-payment of wages, dangerous, abusive and inhumane working conditions on board fishing vessels, lack of health care, malnutrition…
The report exposes the serious shortcomings of European supermarkets, which, by agreeing to sell this tropical tuna — and not hesitating to present it as “sustainable” — are integral to the perpetuation of this toxic trade.
“Distributors deliberately turn a blind eye to the dramatic realities of tuna fishing” observes Pauline Bricault, principal author of the report, produced with the support of the British NGOs Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace UK and Human Rights at Sea. After contacting retailers and analyzing over 300 official documents, letters and databases, we produced a ranking of the 36 main French, British, Italian, Spanish, German and Belgian retailers on their tuna sourcing.
Shelves marred by the death of countless non-targeted marine animals
The vast majority of retailers source their tropical tuna from industrial fisheries that use extremely destructive fishing methods: fish aggregating devices (FADs). These are high-tech rafts under which tuna and other marine animals aggregate. They are then caught indiscriminately, including endangered species such as silky sharks and sea turtles. These death rafts contribute inexorably to the collapse of tuna populations, catching over 95% of juvenile tuna, which end up in cans before they even have time to reproduce. The vast majority of FADs are eventually abandoned at sea, continuing to smother marine life in their nets and to pollute the coastal ecosystems of tropical countries.
Despite knowledge of the damage caused by industrial tuna fishing, some of the tuna products on store shelves carry a misleading “responsible fishing” label, even though they come directly from these destructive fisheries or even from fisheries identified as illegal or illicit.
→ Read BLOOM’s report “Tuna War Games” on the fatal technological race against tuna and marine life
The MSC label seals the irresponsible complicity of industrial fishing and supermarkets
Supermarkets sorely lack in ambition when it comes to sourcing policies that respect the environment and human rights.
Most of the time, retailers hide behind misleading labels such as the MSC, which offer no reliable guarantee of the sustainability of the fisheries or even the traceability of the processing chain. As recently revealed by investigative journalist Ian Urbina’s report “The Outlaw Ocean Project”, 11 Chinese seafood factories have been found to be in violation of the MSC label.
Supermarkets even go so far as to invent misleading wordings or self-proclaimed standards in order to build consumer confidence. This is the case, for example, with leading Italian retailer Esselunga, which has developed its own “pesca sostenibile” (sustainable fishing) label, supposedly to guarantee consumers that the tuna does not come from overfished stocks. However, we found cans of tuna bearing this label containing yellowfin tuna from the Indian Ocean, an overfished species.
→ Read BLOOM’s report “The Death Label” on the MSC’s fake sustainability but true destruction of tuna populations
Knowingly selling European consumers the products of human suffering
Human rights violations are widespread in tuna fisheries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Retailers are content with their suppliers’ declarations without ensuring for themselves their suppliers’ strict compliance with international legal standards regarding human rights in the seafood industry.
In fact, 83% of the companies surveyed did not cite any international legal text concerning the protection of human rights at sea. Despite being fully aware of the often inhumane working conditions at sea, a majority of retailers did not mention a single specific measure to protect human rights in their seafood sourcing policies. Yet workers’ rights and their physical integrity are particularly threatened on vessels and in tuna processing factories.
While fishing in open waters is the most risky stage in this respect as workers operate far from the public eye, not a single retailer claims to have carried out social audits on their vessels.
Like other seafood industries, the tuna industry is associated with slavery, human trafficking and other serious and systemic human rights violations, both at the fishing and processing stages.
→ Read BLOOM’s report “Canned Brutality” on the widespread human rights abuses in tuna fisheries.
Our supermarket ranking: Marks & Spencer top, E. Leclerc bottom
We assessed retailers according to two main criteria: their level of cooperation and the ambition of their policies. Generally speaking, retailers were reluctant to provide us with data on their tuna sourcing. In fact, a third of them scored less than 1/10 in terms of cooperation.
Ranking of retailers according to their level of cooperation and purchasing policies
Only Marks & Spencer in the UK demonstrated a satisfactory level of cooperation: the company provided us with all its tuna sourcing data, which is not the case for any other supermarket.
The rest of the chains refused to provide data on sales of national brands such as Petit Navire and Saupiquet, while our analysis revealed that these products were generally the most problematic. Even Système U, which was transparent about its data on private label tuna products, was unwilling to share information about its sales of national brand products…
At the bottom of the ranking is one of the sector’s leaders, E. Leclerc, which holds almost a quarter of the food retail market share in France. Despite this responsibility, E. Leclerc maintains a total opacity on its tuna sourcing. They have no seafood purchasing policies available on the protection of human rights and the marine environment, while many of their products display misleading logos such as “Our commitment to sustainable fishing”. E. Leclerc has also refused to collaborate with BLOOM and provide the quantitative data requested. In addition, we found that a significant number of cans in their stores contained yellowfin tuna from the Indian Ocean, a species that has been overexploited since 2015. E. Leclerc’s two ratings on cooperation and purchasing policies place the distributor at the very bottom of our ranking.
BLOOM calls on retailers to radically transform their practices
European retailers bear a major responsibility for the collapse of tuna populations. They have chosen to ignore the dire environmental and human reality of the tuna trade. Yet they are the ones who can and must put an end to the carnage.
It is urgent that supermarket chains ambitiously revise their sourcing policies in order to respond immediately and appropriately to the ecological and social catastrophe underway, by ceasing to sell tuna from devastating fisheries.
BLOOM puts Carrefour on notice to put an end to the destruction of the ocean and launches a petition to mobilize the general public.
To find out more
To find out more about the report’s results and methodology :
- Explanation of our methodology
- Compilation of the data provided by 36 companies
- Detailed scores and sources from French companies
- Detailed scores and sources from UK companies
- Detailed scores and sources from companies in Italy and Spain
- Detailed scores and sources for companies in Germany and Belgium
- Detailed sources for multinational companies
Examples of the letters we sent to retailers: