Here’s How Mars and Nestlé Are Stepping Up to Protect the Ocean and Workers

by John Hocevar

March 16, 2017

Thanks to the hard work of pet owners and activists like you, Mars and Nestlé — the two largest pet food companies in the world — just committed to immediate changes to make their pet food supply chains safer for our oceans and workers.

What exactly did Mars and Nestlé just do?

The companies are committing to address a shifty practice in their supply chains called transshipment that enables fishing vessels to offload their products to other boats at sea, far from sight, and continue fishing for months or years at a time. Transshipment is often associated with human rights abuse, illegal fishing and smuggling of shark fins.

Nestlé has committed to a full ban on transshipment at sea in its supply chains, while Mars has committed to suspend the use of transshipped products in their supply chains if it’s seafood suppliers cannot adequately address the human rights and illegal fishing issues associated with the practice in the coming weeks.

Over the last few years, explosive coverage by the Guardian, Associated Press, New York Times and others has exposed human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage and other human rights abuses on fishing fleets supplying seafood to brands and retailers around the world. Massive companies including Mars, Nestlé and Thai Union were implicated, triggering a new focus on supply chain traceability across the seafood industry. More and more restaurants, food service companies, supermarkets and pet food companies recognize that they need to get a handle on where their seafood is coming from, who caught it and how those workers were treated.

It’s great news that Mars and Nestlé are taking positive steps to clean up their supply chains. But more needs to be done to tackle these pervasive problems in the seafood industry.

Here’s how transshipment leads to labor abuse and environmental destruction.

Transshipment allows vessels to hand over their fish at sea and continue fishing. This is problematic from an environmental standpoint, as 24-7, year-round fishing creates heavy pressure on fish stocks that are already in trouble. It also enables pirate fishing vessels to launder their catch, mixing it with legal fish from other boats without ever going into port for inspection.

In February, Global Fishing Watch published a report revealing the startling scale of transshipment for the first time: they found evidence of thousands of transshipments in the last year alone.

Tuna Transshipment in the Indian Ocean

Tuna transshipment on high seas in the Indian Ocean between the Jetmark 101, a Manila-registered longliner and the Tuna Queen, registered in Panama.

The human impacts of transshipment can be horrific, as fishermen can literally be trapped on board for over a year at a time without any chance of escape.

We have interviewed fishermen — many who were trafficked from Cambodia and Myanmar — who described hellish treatment: beatings, sleep deprivation, 20 hour workdays, sexual abuse and even murder of co-workers who dared to complain or simply got too sick to work. Many fishermen reported being forced to eat bait to survive, and several later died from beri beri, a disease that made more sense on the sailing ships of hundreds of years ago than on the boats supplying billion dollar businesses today.

How is this still going on?

As revealed in Turn the Tide, an investigative report on human rights abuses and illegal fishing in Thailand’s overseas fishing industry released by Greenpeace Southeast Asia, many of the most notorious vessels for transshipment simply moved to areas where there was even less scrutiny and regulation. And their fish has shown up in pet food and tuna cans in Europe, the United States and beyond.

The good news is that more companies, NGOs and governments are beginning to recognize the dangers of transshipment at sea, and the challenges it creates for efforts to track seafood back to the source. The spotlight on this concerning practice is shining brighter with companies like Mars and Nestlé showing leadership by stepping forward to clean up their supply chains.

But more must be done and we are calling on companies to join the call to tackle unchecked transshipment at sea.

How can we hold the seafood industry accountable?

Clearly, any slave labor in our products is unacceptable. And Thai Union, a supplier for both Mars and Nestlé, has not taken the same steps the pet food companies have to clean up its own supply chains. That’s why we are using this victory to demand progress from the global seafood giant — to ensure that Mars’ and Nestlé’s commitments translate to immediate, significant change at sea.

If Thai Union commits to end transshipment, it can help lead the charge for the entire industry, creating a brighter future for seafood workers and ocean biodiversity.

Sign the petition to tell Thai Union to join Mars and Nestlé and make a strong commitment to address out of control transshipment at sea now.

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

A trained marine biologist and an accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine scientist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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