The seafood giant behind the John West tuna brand has committed to curb damaging fishing practices and improve working conditions in the wake of a global campaign by Greenpeace.
Thai Union, the world’s largest tinned tuna company, said it was taking steps to make fish easier to trace from sea to plate, reduce fishing methods that harm wildlife and strengthen labour standards.
Greenpeace said the move represented “huge progress”.
It follows a campaign by the group, which in 2015 accused John West of continuing to use harmful “fish aggregation devices” to catch 98% of tuna despite a sustainability pledge to consumers.
Greenpeace had also said there was no way of tracking if tuna could be traced back to Thailand, where there the fishing industry has faced international concerns about environmental destruction and human rights abuses.
Thai Union has pledged to halve the number of fish aggregating devices – which attract tuna, but can also mean sharks, turtles and juvenile fish are caught accidentally – used globally in its supply chains by 2020.
It will also shift “significant portions” of tuna caught by long lines – baited lines that can be miles long and catch other wildlife – to less damaging methods such as pole and line fishing.
Image: Greenpeace activists in a protest outside Thai Union group headquarters in Bangkok
The company will extend its current moratorium on at-sea transshipping, in which catches are transferred from fishing vessels to other boats, across its entire supply chain unless new strict conditions are met by suppliers.
Transshipping allows vessels to stay at sea for months or years at a time, exposing crews to the risk of human rights and labour abuses, and can cover up illegal fishing.
Independent observers will be present on all long line vessels transshipping at sea to inspect and report on potential labour abuse, and the company will develop a code to ensure workers are treated humanely and fairly.
There will also be a move towards full digital traceability to allow people to track their tuna back to the vessel and see how it was caught.
Chief executive Thiraphong Chansiri said: “Thai Union has fully embraced its role as a leader for positive change as one of the largest seafood companies in the world.”
Greenpeace International’s executive director Bunny McDiarmid said: “This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life, and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry.
“If Thai Union implements these reforms, it will pressure other industry players to show the same level of ambition and drive much needed change.
“Now is the time for other companies to step up and show similar leadership.”
Greenpeace and Thai Union will meet every six months to assess implementation, and at the end of 2018 an independent third party will review progress.