Replica brands

How trustworthy are seafood brands…really?

Under the hot midday sun, Manny (pseudonym) cries out for help.

“I am very weak at the moment and unable to breathe because I have asthma.”

“Look. I live on a boat and it’s very hot,” he says in a video recording, lifting a tarp he uses for shade and panning on his cellphone to show the boat on which he is in. “In our cabin it is very hot and there is no air conditioning. So please help me, so that I can go to the hospital.”

In 2019, Manny left the Philippines to work as a fisherman on the Da Wang, a Taiwanese-owned, Vanuatu-flagged deep-sea commercial fishing vessel. He hoped that this new opportunity would earn him enough to support his family. But instead of receiving fair pay for his work, he says he was a victim of human trafficking. While on board the Da Wang, he reported seeing his companions being physically abused, one incident being particularly brutal.

“The mate in the captain’s cabin was watching us work. If the first mate saw our now deceased mate not working, or not working well enough, he would come down and start hitting him directly,” he said solemnly.

Prosecutors found a worker had died after an accident in which he was hit on the back of the head. Although the cause of death was not directly linked, the accident prompted 19 foreign crew members to resign, apparently because they could not stand the physical abuse suffered on board the ship.

In 2019, Manny (pseudonym) left the Philippines to work as a fisherman on the Da Wang, a commercial deep-sea fishing vessel owned by Taiwan and flagged in Vanuatu. But instead of receiving fair pay for his work, he says he was a victim of human trafficking and witnessed brutal physical abuse. Here is his story about how he seeks justice and the far-reaching problems in Taiwan’s deep-sea fishing industry.

The Beginning of the Seafood Supply Chain

A fisherman unloads a ship’s catch at the port of Tegal in Central Java. © Jurnasyanto Sukarno / Greenpeace

For migrant fishers like Manny, this experience is sadly common and is often where the journey of the can of tuna from sea to shelf begins. It’s a vicious cycle: overfishing and stock depletion in recent decades now means ships have to venture further out to sea to catch their catch; cheap labor is often employed to do the backbreaking work of setting and hauling in hooks and fishing lines; and on the high seas, beyond national jurisdictions, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, lone workers are often vulnerable and abused with very limited means to escape or report their experiences.

But over the years, a growing number of news stories have documented how workers on deep-sea fishing vessels are treated. According to various migrant worker groups and case studies, fishers have been victims of human trafficking and forced labor, including financial exploitation such as debt bondage.

Knowing this, many companies are now marketing their commitment to responsible and sustainable sourcing as much as the taste of their product. For groups, including Greenpeace, who have spent years monitoring and documenting human rights abuses in the seafood supply chain, it’s no surprise that despite their claims and promises intended to inspire consumer confidence, for many seafood brands this is not always the case. the case.

Fake my take

Source of Bumble Bee Tuna Can.
Greenpeace research revealed that a can of Bumble Bee tuna purchased from Harris Teeter (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger Co.) in Arlington, Virginia on April 12, 2022 came from DA WANG, a fishing vessel owned by of Taiwanese confirmed to have forced labor indicators by US Customs and Border Protection. © Greenpeace

An investigation by Greenpeace East Asia has found that at least one US brand, Bumble Bee, is shirking its commitment to environmental sustainability and human rights. In fact, the company’s transparency tool, Trace My Catch, which lets consumers know where and how their tuna was caught, has sometimes proven insufficient. In a sample of 119 Taiwanese-flagged/Taiwan-owned vessels supplying Bumble Bee, additional data showed that more than 10% (13) violated Taiwan Fisheries Agency regulations and were on its illegal list. unreported and unregulated (IUU).

The “Fake My Catch: Unreliable Traceability in Our Cans of Tuna” report also reveals alarming information, raising concerns that seafood tainted by forced labor has already been sold on the US market. A canned Bumble Bee product recovered from the US supermarket chain Harris Teeter in Arlington, Virginia was found to be from the Da Wang. Bumble Bee’s Trace My Catch website lists the source of this tuna as Da Wang on a trip in 2019, during which a fisherman was allegedly beaten and died at sea. In April this year, the captain of the vessel, the second and seven other people have been charged by Taiwanese authorities for their involvement in forced labor and human trafficking.

The Greenpeace East Asia investigation also found that vessels allegedly engaged in shark finning, illegal fishing and violated Taiwanese fishing regulations. Additionally, according to fishermen interviewed by Greenpeace East Asia who worked on some of the vessels supplying Bumble Bee, they all worked overtime and their wages were withheld.

These findings contradict Bumble Bee’s policies on corporate social responsibility and sustainability that are meant to extend across its entire supply chain.

Screenshot of Bumble Bee "Trace my catch" showing that he was sourcing tuna from Da Wang.
Screenshot of Bumble Bee’s “Trace My Catch” showing her sourcing tuna from Da Wang.

The “sustainable” choice

Supermarket canned tuna in stores in Washington DC
Canned tuna on a store shelf in an American supermarket. © Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Bumble Bee wants us to believe that their products are healthy, nutritious and, according to their new campaign, “good for you”. But if allegations of forced labor, illegal fishing, and other environmental and human rights abuses occur in the seafood supply chain, is that really good for you?

Given the choice, most people would avoid seafood from stocks that are overfished, illegally caught, or caught by enslaved or abused fishers. For U.S. consumers, a 2022 poll shows nearly three-quarters support traceability, or the ability to track seafood through the supply chain. Bumble Bee, one of the leading companies in the canned tuna market, and its Taiwanese parent company FCF, one of the world’s top three tuna traders, not only play an important role in the global tuna industry, but also in the health of our oceans. and the lives of fishermen at sea. As consumers and concerned individuals, we need a more transparent supply chain and full, correct and readily available information. It really would not only be “good for you”, but good for the planet.

Yuton Lee is the Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia (Taipei)