Stocking Up On Tainted Tuna? Report Alleges Problems with Fishing Practices, Working Conditions at Sea

Sleeping quarters on a Taiwanese company-owned vessel fishing for tuna in the mid-Atlantic. Photo credit: Greenpeace.

NEW YORK — As households try to stock up on shelf-stable foods, a Greenpeace investigation has found potential links between a major brand of tuna, modern slavery and illegal fishing practices.

In January, Fong Chun Formosa, or FCF, one of the world’s top tuna traders, acquired Bumble Bee, the largest canned seafood company in North America. According to Andy Shen, senior oceans adviser and U.S. project lead with the Greenpeace global tuna campaign, FCF has failed to address systemic issues in its supply chain, including forced labor and illegal fishing.

“This tuna trader has close links to many problematic fishing companies,” Shen said. “Therefore, there’s an incredibly high risk of tainted tuna entering into our supermarkets and our homes through Bumble Bee tuna.”

Bumble Bee Seafoods said third-party auditors monitor its suppliers’ facilities for labor violations, and it remains committed to expanding social accountability to fishing vessels.

But Shen noted the Greenpeace investigation of labor violations aboard tuna fishing vessels revealed conditions that meet international definitions of forced labor and human trafficking.

“They were subjected to debt bondage, to inhumane working hours, really cruel living conditions,” he said. “Some of the worst cases I’ve ever seen.”

He added illegal transfers of tuna between vessels at sea also allow the co-mingling of legal and illegal catches, possibly allowing tainted fish to enter into the U.S. market.

Shen said he hopes the report will encourage Bumble Bee to do more to ensure its products are caught sustainably and workers on the boats are treated humanely.

“And consumers can do a lot,” he said. “They can call on Bumble Bee, and on retailers that are selling Bumble Bee canned tuna, to really adopt better policies and practices.”

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