Environmental News Oceans Sustainability

Bumble Bee Tuna Comes With Illegally Caught Fish and Human Rights Violations

A commercial tuna fishing vessel on the open water

Americans love canned and pouched tuna, as a survey by the National Fisheries Institute shows. Canned tuna is the most popular seafood in the U.S. after shrimp. Americans eat about one billion pounds of canned and pouched tuna a year. One in four Americans (23 percent) serves tuna at least once a week. 

Canned tuna has a huge global market. The canned tuna market is expected to reach $15 billion by 2032, and it is currently valued at $9.8 billion. The U.S. is the top country driving the demand for canned tuna. Bumble Bee Foods is one of the top companies in the industry. 

Bumble Bee’s Traceability Problem

That canned tuna we Americans love comes with a human rights cost, particularly if it is Bumble Bee tuna. One of the leading canned tuna companies in the U.S. market, Bumble Bee has almost 90 percent of consumer awareness levels. Its Taiwanese parent company Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF) is one of the top three global tuna traders.

Before its acquisition by FCF, Bumble Bee was the largest canned tuna brand in the U.S. It is mainly sold in the U.S. but is also available in Canada. FCF is one of the top three tuna traders in the world, and the U.S. EU, and Japan are its main markets. In 2020, the company’s annual turnover was reportedly up to $2.6 billion, three times the annual production value of Taiwan’s distant water fisheries. 

A report by Greenpeace East Asia revealed that the information supplied on Bumble Bee’s “Trace My Catch” website is insufficient and incorrect in some cases. Bumble Bee sourced fish from vessels that either was suspected of or engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, forced labor, and human rights abuses, according to the analysis by Greenpeace East Asia. 

Bumble Bee launched Trace My Catch in 2015. Consumers enter a code on the website from a Bumble Bee product and obtain partial information on the origin and supply chain of the tuna. Greenpeace East Asia found that the information is limited and dependent on the accuracy of the information FCF and its trading partners provided. Consumers may still buy canned tuna with a side of human rights violations if “the company deliberately conceals or fails to investigate issues in its supply chain,” according to the analysis.

Analysis of the Trace My Catch website finds contradictory information. Bumble Bee sourced tuna from 290 different vessels and nearly half of them are either Taiwanese-flagged or owned. Some of the information on the website contradicts information from the Taiwan Fisheries Agency (TFA) about where the supply vessel was authorized to fish:

  • Twenty-eight fishing vessels provided by Bumble’s Bees traceability tool were incorrect.
  • TFA listed thirteen fishing vessels that supplied tuna to Bumble Bee on their website for IUU fishing.
  • All nine fishermen interviewed by Greenpeace East Asia who worked on six Taiwanese vessels that supplied Bumble Bee experienced or observed at least one of the International Labor Organization (ILO) indicators of forced labor.
  • Six of the fishermen interviewed experienced or observed four or more of the 11 indicators. All said they experienced excessive overtime and retention of their identity documents. Over two-thirds of them had their wages withheld. 

Americans Want Traceability

A 2022 Morning Consult poll found that 70 percent of Americans want sustainably sourced seafood, and 65 percent want to know where their seafood is processed. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of those polled support traceability. It is time for Bumble Bee and FCF to give Americans what they want. A good starting place is removing products with the taint of suspected IUU and forced labor from the market. Establishing an independent investigation committee for Trace My Catch’s flaws, and addressing supply chain problems, is another good step. 

“Bumble Bee claims to be for people and the planet, but what we see in this report is a company skirting its responsibilities to make a profit,” said Mallika Talwar, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace USA


Image credit: Bernal Saborio on Flickr

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