What You May Want to Know About Your Tuna Sandwich and Human Rights

(Photo © Zephyr18 / iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Photo © Zephyr18 / iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Do you always look for the “dolphin-safe” and “sustainably caught” labels on your tuna? If so, you’re probably already thinking about how your meals impact marine life and the environment. A new report shows that protecting human rights within the tuna industry is not only just as important as sustainability, but that the two issues are actually interrelated.

According to Greenpeace USA’s latest report, “The High Cost of Cheap Tuna: US Supermarkets, Sustainability, and Human Rights at Sea,” American demand for tuna has risen steadily while fish stocks have declined due to overfishing and ocean warming driven by climate change. As commercial fishing escalates to meet demand, so have reports of forced labor and human rights violations aboard fishing vessels. The report highlights how loopholes in human rights policies governing U.S. retailers’ supply chains have left many migrant fishers vulnerable to such exploitative labor practices as forced labor, debt bondage and physical abuse.

Advocates say that although major U.S. retailers don’t directly employ fishers, these companies can help put an end to this cycle by buying tuna only from ethical suppliers. Unfortunately, all 16 of the retailer chains surveyed in the Greenpeace report received failing scores. The report, which for the first time assesses the human rights policies applied to retailers’ tuna supply chains, found that many companies have ignored this issue or have opted for only surface-level changes that have not delivered meaningful impacts.

Despite these results, there is some good news.

“The seafood industry has come under more scrutiny as consumers better understand the links between environmental damage and human rights abuses,” says John Hocevar, oceans campaign director, Greenpeace USA. “Consumers are demanding that their retailers act sustainably and ethically. The report offers some encouragement that we are progressing in the right direction. However, it is clear that a large amount of work lies ahead to get these corporations to make the changes necessary to ensure they are protecting human lives and the environment.”

To read the entire report and view the ranking, visit greenpeace.org/usa/tuna-scorecard.

“Retailers and the consumers they serve can become voices for change,” says Hocevar. “We urge retailers to take ownership of human rights and sustainability issues at the same time, and we encourage consumers to demand that they do.”