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An investigation by charity Shark Guardian has exposed a ‘chasm’ between the fish company’s promises and its actions

John West owner Thai Union has been accused of greenwashing and failing to act on promises to protect threatened ocean species.

An investigation by charity Shark Guardian claimed to expose a “chasm” between the fish company’s promises and its actions towards sustainability and workers’ rights.

Shark Guardian’s report, ‘The Art of Greenwashing: Thai Union’s Sustainability Smokescreen’, examined publicly available reports from the Thai Union Group and claimed to uncover “critical disparities” between commitments and action.

It raised issues with the seafood giant’s use of Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) and their efficacy, alongside the company’s reliance on Marine Stewardship Council certification.

“Talk is cheap and meaningless without action,” said Brendon Sing, co-founder of Shark Guardian. “The disparity between Thai Union’s promises and its actions has major implications for the health of our ocean.”

The Shark Guardian report stated FIPs “which are held up as examples of sustainability initiatives, do not meet their objectives, with essential risk assessments for serious allegations like human trafficking and forced labour postponed as if they were minor infractions”.

Thai Union told The Grocer it sourced 85% of its total tuna volume from fisheries either MSC certified, in MSC assessment, or in a “credible” FIP in 2023. However, these schemes and their outcomes lacked credibility against the backdrop of ongoing fish stock declines globally, Shark Guardian argued.

“Industry-funded FIPs appear to be used as an additional layer of greenwashing,” said Alex Hofford, marine wildlife campaigner at Shark Guardian. “Promoting a narrative of progress in the absence of tangible evidence looks more like a comms strategy than actual policy.”

Complexity of fisheries leading to issues

The charity said the complexities of tuna fishery supply chains had enabled Thai Union to distance itself from problematic suppliers.

It has called on the business to “step up and deliver the sustainable future” it aspires to, or the company “should be broken up”.

Shark Guardian also criticised the company’s SeaChange 2030 “sustainability strategy” which it said has been “put up as a front to bamboozle investors, the public and the media”.

Thai Union told The Grocer this strategy was one of the broadest-reaching commitments in the industry, and that it will show measurable and tangible progress across all 11 commitments.

The company also said its performance against its Tuna Commitment was independently analysed and reported by auditing firm Key Traceability.

“Thai Union is committed to the sustainability of the oceans, to protecting their biodiversity, and to providing a safe, decent, and equitable workplace to the women and men that work on the vessels and farms we source from,” said a spokesperson for the company.