New Report: 16 Biggest U.S. Grocery Retailers Failed on Forced Labor and Human Rights Abuses When Sourcing Tuna—a US$42.2 Billion Industry
As UN negotiations for a global oceans treaty are set to resume, private-sector respect for basic human rights and environmental safeguards is still found lacking throughout the tuna supply chain
February 13, 2023
None of the 16 biggest grocery retailers in the U.S. have done enough to purge forced labor and other human rights abuses from tuna fish supply chains, a flashpoint for the industry in recent years, according to a new scorecard report from Greenpeace USA. Additionally, only two of the retailers — Aldi and Whole Foods — received passing grades for addressing environmental and sustainability issues in sourcing tuna. In total, of the 16 retailers, only Aldi received an overall passing grade in the scorecard: 61.5% out of 100.
Washington DC (February 13, 2023)—None of the 16 biggest grocery retailers in the U.S. have done enough to purge forced labor and other human rights abuses from tuna fish supply chains, a flashpoint for the industry in recent years, according to a new scorecard report from Greenpeace USA. Additionally, only two of the retailers — Aldi and Whole Foods — received passing grades for addressing environmental and sustainability issues in sourcing tuna. In total, of the 16 retailers, only Aldi received an overall passing grade in the scorecard: 61.5% out of 100.
The global tuna market size reached US$ 42.2 Billion in 2022, with canned tuna accounting for one-fifth of the sector. Nearly six million metric tonnes of tuna are removed from the ocean every year, an amount that has increased 1000% in six decades, according to researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Western Australia. In 2018, tuna vessels worldwide netted $11 billion, while grocery stores earned almost four times that amount from their sales of tuna products in the same year.
“Grocery retailers continue to turn a blind eye to the worst abuses at sea,” said Mallika Talwar, Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace USA. “Even as customers press clothing manufacturers and other economic sectors to respect human rights and labor standards, the abuses in tuna fisheries continue unchecked. These fleets need to both implement and follow much stronger labor and environmental standards – these workers, like all others, deserve safe workplaces and decent wages.”
The report was released one week before the final round of negotiations for a UN treaty governing commerce and human activity in international waters — including tuna fisheries. The fishing vessels that supply the industry operate in the middle of the world’s largest oceans. They are probably the most isolated workplace on the planet; human rights and environmental standards have always been easy to skirt. This reality, however, has largely been hidden from U.S. consumers, and, for the most part, retailers that earn billions of dollars from tuna products have yet to hold themselves and their suppliers to more rigorous standards.
Retailers’ inaction on human rights and labor standards has resulted in products produced with serious labor abuses being available for sale in the U.S. For example, the leadership of the Taiwanese-owned vessel Da Wang was indicted for involvement in forced labor and human trafficking. Despite the abuse heaped on the crew and a suspicious death occurring onboard, tuna fish caught by this vessel was traced to Bumble Bee Foods. It was made available for sale in a tuna can traced to the shelves of a Harris Teeter (a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger Co.) in Arlington, Virginia. Kroger’s final score in the new report was 27%, leading to it being ranked in 10th place.
The report evaluated the 16 largest grocery retailers in the U.S. market, looking at how careful the corporations were in ensuring that their supply chains respected environmental sustainability and human rights standards. Of the 16 retailers, 11 returned surveys and the other five were assessed on publicly available information.
Whole Foods received the highest environmental score, with 75%, followed by Aldi at 70%. Aldi came closest to receiving a passing grade on human rights, at 56%. Meijer scored 20% on environment, the lowest grades in this category, whereas SEG scored the lowest in the human rights category with an execrable 2%. Overall, Meijer scored the worst with a disappointing 16%, followed closely by Wegmans (17%), Southeastern Grocers (18%) and Publix (19%)
“It’s not enough to have human rights, labor, and sustainability policies — corporations must enforce them and they are moving too slowly,” said Marilu Cristina Flores, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace USA. “Although many retailers have environmental sustainability guidelines in place, only five scored a passing grade in this category. And even though retailers still have a lot of ground to cover in environmental sustainability, their inaction on human rights violations is even further behind the times. This has real-world consequences on the lives of thousands of vulnerable fishers in the distant water fishing industry.”
Greenpeace USA first began surveying corporations on their environmentally sustainable sourcing policies 14 years ago, when the concepts of Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) and reduced bycatch were fairly new. Today, many of these principles have been widely acknowledged but not fully embraced; while several retailers improved their scores by more than five points, none did so by more than 10 points.
Human rights issues, in contrast, have as much visibility today as environmental sustainability had 10 years ago. Very few retailers committed to respect the International Labor Organization Work in Fishing Convention of 2007, which provides very specific guidance on minimum standards for decent working conditions on fishing vessels, including workplace safety, decent wages and working conditions, and access to food and clean water. Only Aldi scored the maximum for expressing a commitment to these and other UN policies. Four retailers — HEB, Publix, SE Grocers, and Wegmans — scored zero points for this question.
“We need at least one company to step forward and lead the way on human rights in the tuna industry,” said Flores. “It can be the new entity after the Kroger and Albertsons merger is complete, perhaps, but neither company has treated this issue with gravity. Whole Foods markets its brands for environmental sustainability, and it leads all tuna retailers in this field, but on human rights it is sadly silent. One company could be all that’s needed to start a trend that would make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of workers around the world.”
Retailers were scored with percentage grades based on 39 questions that were sorted into six categories:
- Tuna procurement policy (20%)
- Traceability (20%)
- Advocacy and initiatives (10%)
- Human rights and labor protections (25%)
- Current sourcing (20%)
- Customer education and labeling (5%)
In addition, the 39 questions were also categorized as pertaining either to environmental issues, human rights issues, or both, providing each retailer with an overall environmental score and an overall human rights score.
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Tanya Brooks, Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA
(+1) 703-342-9226, [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