Bumblebee Tuna Not as Wholesome as Company Claims

Greenpeace East Asia Report Uncovers Suspected Human Rights Abuse and Environmental Destruction in Company’s Supply Chain 

September 1, 2022

Major US seafood brand Bumble Bee is suspected of having environmentally harmful illegal fishing and human rights abuse in its supply chain, according to a new investigative report by Greenpeace East Asia. The American brand, owned by Taiwanese tuna traders FCF, has long worked to establish its reputation as "champions for sustainable fishing and dedicated advocates for fishers." However, the “Fake My Catch - the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report uncovers information that shows that by sourcing seafood from vessels that are suspected of labor and human rights abuses, the company is failing to deliver on its promises to American consumers. 

Washington, DC (August 30, 2022)Major US seafood brand Bumble Bee is suspected of having environmentally harmful illegal fishing and human rights abuse in its supply chain, according to a new investigative report by Greenpeace East Asia.

The American brand, owned by Taiwanese tuna traders FCF, has long worked to establish its reputation as “champions for sustainable fishing and dedicated advocates for fishers.” However, the “Fake My Catch – the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report uncovers information that shows that by sourcing seafood from vessels that are suspected of labor and human rights abuses, the company is failing to deliver on its promises to American consumers.

Mallika Talwar, a Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said: “We are not surprised at the high level of disparity between what Bumble Bee tells US consumers and what was uncovered in this investigation. Bumble Bee claims to be for people and the planet, but what we see in this report is a company skirting its responsibilities in order to make a profit. Instead of disclosing a list of all their supply vessels, they have used smokescreens such as the Trace My Catch program to fake transparency while leaving it up to consumers to dig up information on an incredibly complex and opaque supply chain. Even then, as this report shows, there is no guarantee the information Bumble Bee shares is correct. That is not what real transparency looks like.”

The “Fake My Catch – the unreliable traceability in our tuna cans” report finds that over 10% (13) of the 119 Taiwanese-flagged/owned vessels identified in the sampling that supplied Bumble Bee had violated Taiwanese fishery regulations and were on the Taiwan Fisheries Agency’s (TFA) illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) list. Further, indicators of forced labor were identified in the reports of fishers that worked aboard six of the vessels that supplied Bumble Bee and FCF.[1] Catch from Taiwanese-owned vessel Da Wang, whose crew were indicted for their involvement in forced labor and human trafficking, has been used to supply Bumble Bee – raising concerns that seafood tainted with forced labor has already been sold in the US market. Additionally, one migrant fisher died whilst working on Da Wang after an accident occurred – reportedly causing the other workers to quit due to the excessive physical abuse they endured. A Bumble Bee product sourced from this fishing vessel was found to be available for sale at a Harris Teeter (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger Co.) in Arlington, Virginia.

For years, brands and retailers such as Bumble Bee have failed to take the full measure of their responsibility.  Compounded by weak legislation in the countries throughout the seafood supply chain, civil society efforts to increase traceability and transparency have been scuttled. This has left large loopholes which have allowed the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers, the perpetuation of environmentally damaging practices, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing to occur in the industry largely unchecked.

Yuton Lee, Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia (Taipei) said: “This investigation demonstrates how seafood companies risk taking advantage of the vulnerability of fishers and how slavery-tainted seafood can enter consumer markets all over the world. By sourcing from fishing vessels that have engaged in or are suspected of IUU fishing and human rights abuse, both Bumble Bee and FCF effectively deny the efforts law-abiding fishers have put into creating a sustainable and moral fishery and fail to defend those fishers’ rights for fair competition. As one of the top three tuna traders in the world, FCF holds great responsibility to stop this exploitation – for the health of our ocean, the lives of fishers at sea, and for safe consumer choices.”

Greenpeace USA and Greenpeace East Asia have called on Bumble Bee and FCF to: remove products suspected of IUU and forced labor-tainted tuna from the market; fully disclose their supplying vessels list; establish an independent investigation committee for the flaws in Trace My Catch; and issue an apology to the exploited fishers, retailers, and consumers.

Greenpeace USA has also called on the Biden Administration to strengthen its legislative and regulatory framework to curtail environmental and human rights abuses.

Talwar continued: “It is clear that we need better regulation and enforcement to move these intransigent corporate actors.  The US is one of the world’s largest seafood importers and can wield significant influence in bringing forced labor at sea to an end. US retailers need to do more to ensure that the products they stock in their stores are not tainted with forced labor.

“Greenpeace offices have spent years documenting human rights abuses in FCF’s supply chain. Knowing that there is a high chance of seafood tainted with such abuse entering the US market, we call on the US Customs and Border Protection to block the importation of FCF’s tainted products and for the Biden Administration to end the era of US seafood companies and retailers profiting from seafood caught with suspected forced labor.”

Greenpeace East Asia and the US office’s research included collecting hundreds of tuna cans from US supermarkets and entering 73 distinct codes into the Bumble Bee’s “Trace My Catch” (TMC) system, which allows consumers to track the source of its tuna products.[2] The data was then cross-checked with the TFA and Global Fishing Watch, an open-access tool that analyses global fishing activity.

Greenpeace East Asia also interviewed 27 migrant fishers and found that all reported experiencing or observing at least one incident of forced labor. Nine workers on the six vessels supplying fish to Bumble Bee and FCF all reported experiencing excessive overtime, and almost all reported withholding of wages and retention of documents, which is sometimes used by vessel operators or manning agencies to deter or prevent fishers from leaving or terminating their contracts early.

FCF, Bumble Bee, and owners of 24 Taiwanese-related vessels were all given the opportunity to comment. FCF, Bumble Bee, and seven vessel owners did not respond. Other vessel owners said they were not able to verify or denied all allegations.[3]

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Photo and video collections are available here.

Notes:

[1] The six vessels are: De Chan No.116, Eagle, Jubilee, Ren Horng Chun No.168, Ren Horng Way No.368, Yi Man

[2] The codes were taken from Bumble Bee cans sold in Arlington, Virginia; Washington, DC; Durham, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and Columbia, Maryland.

[3] The seven fishing vessels that did not reply to Greenpeace are Chun I No.217, Eagle, Jin Wen No.99, Jubilee, Man Chi Feng, Yi Feng No.816, Zhen Feng No.8.

 

Contact:

Tanya Brooks, Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA, (+1) 703-342-9226, [email protected]

Eliza Yang, Communications Officer at Greenpeace East Asia (Taipei), (+886) 958-658-612, [email protected]

Shuk-Wah Chung, Communications Lead, global fisheries campaign with Greenpeace International, (+852) 5420 4186, [email protected]

Greenpeace USA is part of a global network of independent campaigning organizations that use peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace USA is committed to transforming the country’s unjust social, environmental, and economic systems from the ground up to address the climate crisis, advance racial justice, and build an economy that puts people first. Learn more at www.greenpeace.org/usa.

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