As people around the globe stock their pantries for long stretches at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of tinned tuna are going through the roof. In the U.S., consumption has increased 142% compared to the same time last year.
But a new report released last month by environmental NGO Greenpeace highlights concerns about the ethical and legal credentials of many top tuna brands. The report is based on interviews with migrant fishers on three vessels operating in the Atlantic Ocean that are flagged or linked with Taiwan, including two longliners and a carrier that transports crew and fish to and from longliners. It suggests that forced labor and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continue to occur within major tuna supply chains, despite efforts by companies and governments to stamp them out.
One of the vessels that interviewees accused of these practices supplies tuna to the Taiwan-based Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF), one of the world’s largest tuna traders and the new owner of major U.S. canned-tuna brand Bumble Bee. Another of the accused vessels supplies tuna to a refrigerated cargo ship that FCF works with.
The fishers’ allegations included deception, physical violence, wage deductions, debt bondage, passport confiscation, and excessive working hours. For example, several fishers reported working 18-hour days, on average, and as many as 34 hours straight: “We only got to sleep for five hours if and when we caught some fish,” said one interviewee. “If we didn’t catch anything, we’d just have to keep working.” Crew were also transferred illegally between vessels.