16 May 2023
Human rights abuses: the brutality contained in a tuna can
16 May 2023
Persistent. Endless. Relentless. Human rights abuses are pervasive in the tuna industry. This is the conclusion of a report that BLOOM is releasing today in close collaboration with the International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School, USA.
Numerous reports published over the years have denounced human trafficking, beatings, verbal abuse, debt bondage, and inhumane working conditions throughout the global tuna supply chain, from fishing boats to canning plants. The “Canned brutality” report published today demonstrates the willful ignorance of States and companies, as well as their failure to address such abuses and ensure that the rights of workers in the tuna industry are protected and respected.
BLOOM calls for the tuna industry to implement effective measures that put an end to human rights abuses in their value chain.
It’s undeniable: the science shows that industrial fishing of tropical tuna is a catastrophe for the oceans and the biodiversity they host. In our previous report “Tuna war games” we exposed the war that high-tech fishing has declared on tuna, which is bringing populations of these fish to the brink of collapse. (1) With our new report “Canned Brutality”, BLOOM demonstrates how the tuna that ends up on the tables of millions of consumers is tainted by abuses of fundamental human rights. In collaboration with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, we reviewed reports documenting widespread brutality in the tropical tuna fisheries of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Although the industry has been denounced in the past for serious human rights failures, our review finds no evidence that the situation has meaningfully improved in recent years.
Our analysis took us on the journey of canned tuna from the tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans to our supermarkets in Europe, passing through the processing factories in Southeast Asia and Central America. We show how human trafficking, beatings, verbal abuse, debt bondage, and inhumane working conditions pervade the industrial process of tuna fishing and canning.
The information collected in our report demonstrates companies’ willful ignorance of human rights abuses in this industry. Major producers and retailers marketing tuna in France and throughout Europe must put an end to human rights abuses in their supply chains. There is a dire need for retailers to adopt responsible business practices and supply chain safeguards that guarantee they are not tied to the human rights abuses and environmental destruction of the tuna industry.
These abuses are prevalent from fishing boats to canning plants. Yet the information collected in our report demonstrates companies’ willful ignorance of human rights abuses in this industry. Major producers and retailers marketing tuna in France and throughout Europe must put an end to human rights abuses in their supply chains. There is a dire need for retailers to adopt responsible business practices and supply chain safeguards that guarantee they are not tied to the human rights and environmental abuses in the tuna industry.
EU fails to flag for human rights abuses
European institutions must ensure that products sold on the EU market are not tainted by abuses against workers and the environment. Existing measures are completely insufficient to guarantee a humane and sustainable supply of tuna for the European retail system. The EU has implemented a system meant to monitor illegal and unregulated fishing and prevent the importation of such products. (2) However, our analysis found that the European control system is both opaque and highly ineffective, failing to identify and mitigate human rights abuses in the tuna supply chain. As too often happens, it is the citizens and workers of the Global South who pay the highest price of this lax attitude, while the economic interests of tuna producers and large retailers are protected. The time has come for Europe to take real and effective measures to prevent the sale of products manufactured and processed in inhumane and environmentally-destructive conditions.
Certification labels: a guarantee against human rights abuses?
The cans of tuna that we find in our supermarkets are often stamped with labels certifying their ‘sustainability’. However, certificates for so-called ‘sustainable’ fishing insufficiently take human rights into account, and many exclude human rights considerations from their certification process. (3) The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme, which is one of the most widely used, is also one of the worst-performing when it comes to human rights accountability. This is not very surprising: BLOOM has previously shown that the MSC label certifies as ‘sustainable’ even the most environmentally devastating fishing techniques, such as bottom trawling or dredge fishing. (4) The total lack of consideration for human rights only confirms the inadequacy of this certification system. to the ecological and human challenges of the millennium.
The ‘Canned brutality’ report is the most recent addition to our ‘Tuna Gate’ campaign. Over the past few months, BLOOM’s investigations have highlighted the role of large European fishing cartels in the plundering of tropical oceans (5) and their unacceptable interference in the political processes of countries bordering the Indian Ocean. (6) Our new report sheds light on another consequence of that same corporate impunity: the tuna industry is able to continue profiting at the expense of workers aboard fishing vessels and in the processing factories of this global industry.
BLOOM calls on all actors in the tuna supply chain, from catch to retailers, to take full responsibility for their activities and to implement concrete measures to end human rights abuses in the supply chains by making it transparent and traceable, establishing effective complaint systems accessible to all workers, and banning the transshipment of fish at sea. These commitments would be important first steps in ending the human tragedy associated with our reckless consumption of tuna.