Original research carried out in July 2018. Information verified (and Countdown and John West sections updated) May 2020; Countdown tuna revised and Sealord mackerel added June 2023.
At Just Kai our bottom line is that fish, cocoa and sugar should be free of child and slave labour right back to the original boat or farm.
Within this, where possible we also:
- identify goods produced in low income countries (as buying those increases employment opportunities there);
- identify which goods are produced in the best labour conditions available (supporting those brands will increase the pool of good jobs people have to choose from).
The reasons behind these principles are explained in more detail here.
Unlike salmon, the fish we’re considering here are mostly deepwater fish caught offshore or on the high seas, although some sardines are caught on-shore. Deepwater fisheries provide ideal conditions for forced labour as the fishing boats are often at sea for very long periods of time and workers can’t get away. Slavery, harsh beatings, rape and even murder are disturbingly common on such boats. In addition, much of this fish is canned in countries where labour laws are poorly policed: child and forced labour occur frequently in fish processing factories. You can’t even be confident that tinned fish caught in New Zealand waters is caught and processed without such abuses: there are no fish canneries in New Zealand so all our fish is canned overseas, and there have been a number of cases of slavery on deep sea fishing vessels operating in New Zealand waters.
If you want to buy tinned tuna, sardines and mackerel without supporting such things, we have good news! After extensive research we have identified companies selling tinned tuna and sardines in New Zealand that are taking these issues seriously and from whom you can buy in confidence :-)
Here’s how you can buy tinned tuna sardines and mackerel whilst supporting the human rights of those who produce it:
- To buy tinned tuna, sardines and mackerel that provides employment to people in low income countries, you should buy tuna and mackerel rather than sardines (which are generally caught and canned in higher income countries);
- To buy such fish produced under the best labour conditions available, you should buy from Sealord;
- To avoid supporting child or slave labour, you should stick with tinned fish from Sealord, Countdown and Brunswick.
A summary of all the brands we considered is in the graphic below.
Download as a pdf to take with you when you shop.
Read on to learn why we came to these conclusions.
What follows is really long: to navigate to the section(s) that interest you, please use the following links:
Table of Contents
We start with a somewhat lengthy discussion of human rights issues in tuna fishing: to jump straight to a consideration of brands commonly available in New Zealand, click here.
Tuna are huge fish (1-2m long and often weighing several hundred kilos) that live in warm, deep seas throughout the globe. There are five species fished commercially: skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, albacore and bluefin. Some tuna is farmed, but all tinned tuna is wild-caught. Tinned tuna is generally skipjack, yellowfin or albacore. Tuna are caught by five main fishing methods, with purse seine being the most common, followed by long-line. The global wild tuna stock is divided into 10 regions (the West and Central Pacific, the North Pacific, the East Pacific, the South Pacific; each of the North, South, East and West Atlantic plus the Atlantic Mediterranean; the Indian Ocean). The combination of the species in your tin and the region in which it was caught tell you which ‘stock’ of tuna was involved and the name of the regional fisheries management organisation responsible for managing it. RFMOs are primarily responsible for species conservation (so that there continues to be tuna to catch into the future) but they will have an idea of the extent of IUU (i.e. illegal) fishing in their stock which can be helpful in determining the likelihood of human rights abuses there.
Because tuna vessels operate far out to sea, transshipping (where fish are transferred from the fishing vessel to a cargo vessel that carries them back to land) is common. This enables tuna fishing vessels to stay at sea for a year or more, making tuna fishing a very high risk activity from a human rights point of view: employees are basically stuck on board until the ship makes landfall. Transshipping is generally illegal for purse seine vessels (although there are some exceptions) and is only supposed to occur for long line vessels when observers are present, although those observers are interested in the nature of the fish catch, not human rights.
There have been many cases of very serious abuse occurring on tuna fishing vessels. In addition to forced labour, starvation, severe beatings, rape and even murder are well documented. Children frequently work on tuna vessels as cooks and women are sometimes also forced into sex slavery there. It is thus extremely important to ask questions as to how the fish in a given tin of tuna was caught before buying it!
Companies can greatly reduce the risks of these practices occurring in their supply chain if they:
- refuse to buy product that has been transshipped unless human rights observers were present during the transshipment (note that ISSF observers are already likely to be present during transshipment but they aren’t human rights observers: they’re interested in conservation matters such as how much fish has been caught and what by-catch is present. Human rights observers would be addtional);
- only buy from companies that allow independent human rights observers on boats - and make sure they are present frequently;
- interview workers who have been on working on the ships they purchase from when the ships are in port (ideally away from the ship) or engage a third party to conduct such interviews.
Fortunately, many companies internationally are now committing to these sorts of measures, and there is some hope that block chain technology will be able to document where they have occurred in future.
Both forced labour and child labour are well known to occur at factories that process tuna, especially in Thailand, which globally exports far more canned tuna than anyone else. Factories there are generally staffed by migrant workers (mostly from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos) who are far from home and so especially vulnerable to abuse. Before buying tinned tuna, it is important to ask the company whether their fish is processed by audited factories, what certifications those factories possess and which associations they are part of.
Two labour rights factory certifications that are reasonably reliable are:
- TLS 8001: a Thai standard administered by the Thai Department of Labour and Welfare that covers such things as forced labour, fair pay, no child labour, OSH etc. It sets higher standards than those required by Thai law and these standards are audited, although I am unclear how often and whether or not these audits are pre-announced.
- SA 8000: a certification developed by Social Accountability International that covers forced labour, child labour, remuneration, working conditions, discrimination and the right to form/join unions. There is some concern that workers and NGOs have been insufficiently involved in setting its standards, but it does generally seem to be good at identifying good factories. Retaining SA 8000 certification requires regular audits.
In addition, you may also come across factories having ISO 9001 certification. This certification is primarily about quality management systems rather than working conditions, but obtaining it has been found to have a positive impact on workplace safety and possibly on worker rights more generally.
As well as possessing certifications, factories may also be members of various associations. Andy Hall, an activist working for migrant workers’ rights in Thailand, tells me that any factory that is a member of the Thai Tuna Industry Association is reasonably likely to be free of child and forced labour and to treat its staff well. Membership involves annual auditing of all factories. In addition, he feels that Thai Union, a TTIA member and the largest fish processor in Thailand, has particularly good labour practices in its factories - something that seems to be confirmed by Greenpeace. Handily, Thai Union operates its own boats rather than buying from other companies, and the same good labour standards appear to apply on those also.
One further thing. Some factories (and, indeed, fishing companies and tuna marketing companies) may say they have signed onto the ILO’s Good Labour Practices. Note that this is a set of guidelines, not a certification, and signatories aren’t required to do anything after signing, but signing does give them access to training in implementing good labour practices throughout their business. This is really significant, as companies that have guidance on how to go about implementing good labour practices are in a much better position to do so than companies that are simply sanctioned for doing otherwise. The GLPs aren’t a certification (and do need to be accompanied by auditing down the line for me to be confident their practices are now good) but they do give currently dodgy companies a pathway for change.
As you can see, there is no way a company is going to know whether or not abuse is occurring in their supply chain without tracing things very carefully. There are too many steps from the sea to the tin and all of them are at high risk of human rights violations. Fortunately, there are systems available to help companies trace what’s going on: in particular Sedex, a platform which collates and standardises data about known labour rights issues at many stages of supply chains. If a company tells you that it’s not possible for them to know what happens well upstream of their operation, tell them about Sedex!
I contacted five tuna brands to ask about human rights in their supply chain: Sealord, John West, Countdown, Pacific Crown and Pams. Only Sealord and Pams replied, but the others all had some relevant information on their websites. From the information I’ve gathered, I’m only really comfortable buying from Sealord, although John West may also be OK and Countdown is moving in the right direction.
Sealord replied very generously to my emails and have been super-helpful: without them I doubt I would have progressed as far in this project as I have. With their help, I eventually also realised that all the information I needed was actually already present on their website - so they’re not just helpful but also transparent :-)
From the Sealord website it can be seen that they sell Skipjack tuna caught in the West and Central Pacific Ocean using purse seine nets. From my correspondence with Sealord I have further learned that their:
“Tuna is sourced exclusively from FCF, a Taiwanese company that has strict ethical policies regarding the labour conditions on the vessels and supply chain. FCF is a recognised leader in sustainable and traceable chain of custody and operations policies, as well as ethical work practices.”
(more on that from their website here.)
There have been problems with FCF in the past, but these days they seem like a very good supplier. In addition to diligently fulfilling the sustainability requirements of the ISSF, they also have a social accountability policy that endeavours to prevent child and forced labour on their vessels, ensure safe working conditions and create a mechanism for workers to bring grievances. This policy is created in conjunction with Bureau Veritas (a testing, inspection and certification company), who are also responsible for checking compliance with it. Observers are regularly on board the vessels checking that good labour conditions are being adhered to. FCF also publishes the names of all their fishing vessels so that people can check up on them independently. I believe FCF is one of the first tuna companies in the world to take such steps - good on them and good on Sealord for choosing them!
It can also be seen from their website that Sealord tuna is canned at one of two factories: Chotiwat Manufacturing Company (CMC) and Pataya Food Industries, both in Thailand. CMC has SA8000 certification (discussed above), which the workers’ rights activist Andy Hall worked with them to obtain: he is confident they are now one of the best fish factories in Thailand from a worker rights’ perspective. Pataya is a member of the Thai Tuna Industry Association (also mentioned above), which means they will have decent labour standards although perhaps not as good as CMC.
I am really impressed by the commitment Sealord is showing to ensuring human rights are protected throughout their supply chain, and by their transparency in publishing so much about it on their website. I now buy Sealord tuna with great confidence :-)
Sealord sell tinned tuna both plain and in a huge variety of flavours; they also sell flavoured tuna pockets, tuna-based ready-meals and boxes containing crackers and flavoured tuna.
“16. We will focus on a best practice compliance system according to the Global Compliance Programme. We will collaborate with peak organisations to improve workers lives”
Which doesn’t initially seem to mean much, until they expand it out to say:
“We have an ethical sourcing policy which we expect all our suppliers to adhere to. Alongside Woolworths in Australia, we audit own brand factories based on considerations such as human rights and labour practices. We will build on our audit and compliance practice to ensure our supply chain accords with global best practice.
In addition, their responsible sourcing standards prevent the use of child or forced labour, although these standards are only directly applied to tier one suppliers (i.e. companies that supply directly to Countdown, not the companies that, in turn, supply them).
This was insufficient to recommend them. However, Woolworths Australia (Coutdown’s parent company) participated in the March 2021 All At Sea report on tuna supply chains by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRCC). In previous reports they haven’t rated particularly highly, but now they are in the top three companies, only a little below Thai Union. They displayed ‘leading practise’ on:
- human rights due diligence
- supply chain visibility
- practical actions
and were found to be ‘making progress’ on:
- stakeholder engagement.
In terms of ‘remedy’, they were commended for having a hotline available online, by phone and email to workers in its global supply chain (they have had this for some time, but initially only available to factory workers in Thailand.) The policy and website are available in Thai, Burmese, English, Malay and Khmer.
Woolworths Australia (Countdown’s parent company) is also a signatory to the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration (June 2017), which includes the statement:
We pledge to eliminate any form of slavery and ensure suppliers at least meet minimum social standards in management practices as recommended in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Conventions and Recommendations.
We would prefer more information on the auditing of tuna vessels before recommending them; however we have decided to consider their high ranking on the BHRCC report sufficient to recommend them, especially in conjunction with their worker hotline (which extends to fishing vessel workers). We consider Sealord a better choice (as they are clearer about fishing vessle audits); however we believe that Countdown tuna is canned in facilities with good labour practices, and that there is reasonable monitoring of conditions on fishing vessels. Just Kai recommends all Countdown’s own brand tuna products.
Countdown sells tinned tuna in a wide range of flavours in both 96g tear tab and 185g cans; yellowfin tuna is available in 425g tins; in the Essentials range they do 185g and 425g tins of tuna in both springwater and oil. In addition they sell a small range of tuna-based meals such as tuna and crackers, tuna and pasta and tuna and quinoa.
All of John West New Zealand’s tuna suppliers are required to meet the standards set out in the Simplot New Zealand supplier Code of Conduct supporting the ethical sourcing of our products. We work not only with our suppliers but also with relevant government and industry groups to help address human rights and labour risks in supply chains, and have been doing so for 5 years. Initiatives include:
Simplot New Zealand, the owner of the John West New Zealand brand is a member of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX)
All John West tuna suppliers have signed onto the International Labour Organisation’s Good Labour Practices Guidelines
Simplot New Zealand is also a signatory to the New Zealand Retailer and Supplier Round Table Anti-Slavery Pledge
(Note that there doesn’t actually appear to be a New Zealand Retailer and Supplier Round Table Anti-Slavery Pledge. I don’t think this is John West trying to be sneaky, though - just a bit sloppy when trying to ‘localise’ their website. John West’s Australian parent company, Simplot, has signed the Australian Retailer and Supplier Round Table Pledge Against Forced Labour. When I first read the statement on the NZ website it referred to the Australian pledge but it has since been updated to refer to NZ in a number of places including, presumably erroneously, this one.)
Simplot’s supplier code of conduct requires suppliers to: “Prohibit the practice of forced labour, bonded labour, slavery and human trafficking; Prohibit the practice of child labour in contravention of international standards” both in their own practise and in the practises of their suppliers.
Sedex is a system to help companies track working conditions throughout their supply chains, but buying from suppliers that publish information on Sedex doesn’t mean that the working conditions were good, just that you know what they were.
The ILO’s Good Labour Practice guidelines provide excellent guidance on how a company could protect worker rights (both at sea and in factories), but they are guidelines rather than certifications and no one verifies whether signatories are actually following them. Unless John West or Simplot are checking, I can’t be confident their suppliers are putting them into practice just because they are signatories.
The Pledge Against Forced Labour involves Simplot committing to “work collaboratively, including with our suppliers, to help end slavery and all other forms of forced labour where identified in our supply chains.” It doesn’t say that they have any confidence that they are ‘there’ yet, or when they expect to arrive.
In addition to the information on their own website, further information about Simplot (John West’s parent company) was found in the March 2021 All At Sea report on tuna supply chains by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRCC) mentioned above. In it, they were found to display ‘leading practise’ on both Policy and Supply Chain Visibility, they were found to be only ‘starting out’ on Human Rights Due Diligence and to just be ‘making progress’ on Practical Actions.
Lastly, we have also learned that Simplot (John West’s parent company) is a signatory to the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration (June 2017), which includes the statement:
We pledge to eliminate any form of slavery and ensure suppliers at least meet minimum social standards in management practices as recommended in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization’s Conventions and Recommendations.
Which is encouraging, but doesn’t appear to be verified in any way.
From the above we have concluded that John West’s products are reasonably likely to be fine, but we can’t be fully confident of them. John West is clearly aware of the human rights risks in their supply chain. They are making sure their suppliers (through the GLPs) have the information and support they need to eliminate them, they have made sure they themselves (through Sedex) have access to supply chain information and (by signing the Pledge) they have committed to work with their suppliers to eliminate forced labour. They are keen to see these standards in place throughout their supply chain and are taking practical steps towards this. However, we are somewhat cautious of them as they do not state how much progress they have made with these issues to date, nor do they make any mention of third party verification of any progress made, and the BHRCC report concluded they have insufficient actual knowledge of their supply chain. We cannot be certain how people in their supply chain are actually being treated, although it is reasonably likely they are being treated well. If you are unable to buy from Sealord, John West is still a responsible choice.
John West sells plain and flavoured tinned tuna as well as ‘lunch kits’ of flavoured tuna with crackers, and bowls of flavoured tuna with beans.
Note that there is a ‘John West’ brand in Europe that is owned by a different company from that which owns the ‘John West’ brand in Australia and New Zealand. The above applies to the Australian and New Zealand company, not the European one.
Pacific Crown didn’t answer my emails. From their website we learn that they sell albacore tuna that is line caught in the North West Pacific. The tins also state that they are a product of Thailand, so the fish may well be caught by Thai boats and they are certainly canned in Thai factories. Pacific Crown make several sustainability and food safety claims on their website but no worker rights claims.
Given the high prevalence of forced and child labour on Thai fishing boats and in Thai fish processing factories, I won’t buy fish from Thailand that doesn’t demonstrate it is free of these practices. I will not be buying Pacific Crown tuna and do not recommend anyone else who has any concern about human rights to do so either.
Pams (which is a Foodstuffs brand) provides no information about working conditions on their website. However, in response to our queries in 2018 they told us that they primarily sell yellowfin and bigeye tuna caught in the West Central Pacific, along with albacore and bluefin from New Zealand waters. At that stage their tuna was also all line caught. This has clearly since changed as their website now states (May 2020) that they only sell Skipjack tuna in their canned range but that the tuna can be caught by either pole and line or purse seine methods.
They assured us that their tuna from New Zealand is compliant under the New Zealand Quota Management system and that from the Pacific under WCPFC rules. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell me anything about worker rights, as both of those organisations are exclusively concerned with fish stock conservation. According to Slave Free Seas, the fish caught in New Zealand waters is relatively likely to be slave free, but that certainly can’t be said about WCPFC fish which was the subject of a recent disturbing exposé.
Given that they cited WCPFC rules as the main evidence workers’ rights were protected - when the WCPFC doesn’t concern itself with the preservation of these rights - and given the prevalence of forced labour on tuna boats in their region, I think it is extremely unlikely that Pams tuna is slave free.
That makes it largely irrelevant to consider the working conditions in the factories they use; however, we had asked them about that in our original email to which they replied:
We expect our suppliers to comply with all applicable employment and manufacturing laws. As part of our supplier agreements, it is required that ethical principles are adhered to, including fair pay and safe working conditions for staff.
Foodstuffs would never knowingly stock a product that is the result of illegal business practices or slave labour. We acknowledge the seriousness of these issues and we actively work with suppliers to ensure that any product sold in our stores comes from a supply chain that is operating with integrity and good practices for all workers.
In 2020 they also stated:
We have chosen to work with industry leaders who specialise in ethical sourcing. Our work with them gives us robust tools to verify that our suppliers continue to meet our standards in the above areas [environmental, ethical, health and safety, and labour-related practices].
This may mean that they are seriously checking to see if factories are slave free (or only using those with robust certifications or memberships) or it may simply mean they require factories to sign pieces of paper to say they are. We do not know as they didn’t answer our follow-up questions beyond reiterating that they would “never knowingly stock a product that is the result of illegal business practices or slave labour.” We have little confidence in that statement on its own. Foodstuffs supermarkets stock a lot of chocolate that is not fairly traded and, whilst it would be impossible for them to know if any individual bar was produced with slave labour, they wouldn’t have to do much research at all to become certain that some of it was. If they’re applying the same standards to tuna that they apply to their chocolate I have no confidence at all that their products are slave labour free.
I think it is very unlikely that Pams tuna is slave and child labour free; I will definitely not be buying from them in the future and advise you not to do so either.
The term ‘sardine’ is used for a number of small herring species: it can be quite unclear exactly which one is in your tin of ‘sardines’. Most ‘sardines’ are members of the Clupidae family, but those marketed by the largest sardine company in the world (Connors Bros. in Canada) are Atlantic Herring, which come from a different family altogether.
Sardines are caught in most regions of the world. I have come across them being fished in Europe (from Norway in the north to Spain and Italy in the south), North and South America, South and East Asia, North and South Africa and the Pacific. This includes regions of high risk for slavery (e.g. North Africa and South Asia).
Fisheries are generally identified by the species being caught, so the use of the ambiguous term ‘sardines’ makes it harder to identify the fishery in which the fish were caught. If the label doesn’t tell you which species is in your tin and roughly where in the world it was caught then it is basically impossible to determine the working conditions of the people who caught it without significant cooperation from the retail company. Fortunately, some companies do freely provide this information :-)
Sardines generally occur within around 15 km of the coast so this is only a moderately high-risk fishery. Labour rights risks always increase the further you are out to sea.
Three main methods are used to catch sardines globally:
- traps or weirs (used in coastal areas);
- purse-seine fishing, where a loop of net is dragged behind a boat (used close to the surface and in shallow water);
- trawling (used in moderately deep water).
Of these, trawling is particularly high risk from a worker rights point of view: it tends to occur some kilometres out to sea so is difficult to police; it is also often associated with transshipping. In areas where small-scale fishing occurs, purse seine fishing sometimes uses child labour, as the smaller body size of older children and young teens are makes them especially good at spreading purse seine nets and driving sardines into them. Trap and weir fishing generally only involves forced or child labour in countries with weak labour rights enforcement, as it essentially occurs in fixed locations and on land so is easy to police.
In Indonesia, sardines are also caught using blast fishing (fishing with dynamite), which has been found to make extensive use of child labour.
Child labour is a particular risk in sardine packing as children’s small fingers make them particularly good at packing the sardines into the tins. It is important to purchase sardines packed at factories where third-party monitoring of working conditions occurs - especially if they are packed in a country where forced or child labour is known to occur in the fishing sector.
I contacted three sardine brands to ask about labour rights in their supply chains: Brunswick, Pacific Crown and Pams. Only Pams and Brunswick replied, although Pacific Crown had some useful information on their websites. We only consider Brunswick slave free.
Brunswick was the only company to answer my enquiries in any detail; they were also the only company to give information on their website about the conditions under which their fish were caught. Yay for them!
From their website I learned that they can trace all their fish from the retail can back to the vessel on which it was caught. This is fantastic as, without traceability, it is very hard to be confident of conditions along a supply chain. In addition, they say that they know where and how each fish was caught and are confident that they were caught legally. Both forced and child labour are illegal throughout the world, and the fact they have traced their supply chain looking for legality means it is very unlikely that Brunswick sardines are implicated in these practices.
Brunswick sells sardines from both Poland and Canada and keeps the two stocks separate right through to the retail cans. The Canadian sardines are caught by weir fishing in the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia as well as by purse seine fishing (I suspect mostly off the Pacific coast) and are canned in either Alaska or Canada. The Polish ones are caught in the Baltic Sea off Poland. Brunswick didn’t reply to my follow-up question as to where the Polish ones are canned (I initially hadn’t realised they did Polish as well as Canadian sardines), but it is likely they are canned in Poland as there is a sizeable fish canning industry there.
The sardines from the Bay of Fundy are Atlantic Herring, as are those from the Polish Baltic; I am not sure which species those from the Canadian Pacific coast will be and have not asked.
The information Brunswick provided on their website about the fisheries they source from allowed me to double-check whether or not child and/or slave-labour was likely to be present in their supply chain.
In terms of the Polish sardines, the fish are probably caught by ‘cutters’ - the main ships catching herring there. They use purse seine nets. The working conditions on these boats are tough, but the work appears to be voluntarily entered into. There is forced labour in Poland, but mostly in the construction and domestic service industries rather than fishing. Forced labour does occur on fishing boats in the Baltic region, but mostly on Russian rather than Polish boats. I did not come across any evidence of child labour in the Polish fishing industry.
I have not come across any evidence of forced or child labour in the Polish fish processing industry.
In terms of the Canadian sardines, I have not come across any evidence of forced labour in the fishing industry and, at least in terms of the weir fishing, it would be quite hard to pull off as that fishery operates so close to land.
I did come across one report of people being trafficked to Canada from South-East Asia to work in fish factories, but on further tracing it appeared the original report actually described people trafficked for farm work, not fish processing. I have found no such reports at all in regards to Alaskan fish factories.
I am very comfortable with buying Brunswick sardines. I probably have a slight preference for their Polish sardines as Poland is a lower-income country than Canada, but I’d happily buy either. You can distinguish the Polish from the Canadian as they say ‘Est. 1893’ at the top of the logo whereas the Canadian ones say ‘Pure Canadian’ ;-)
Brunswick sell five varieties of tinned sardines: sardines in spring water (which you can get sourced from either Canada or Poland), sardines in olive oil (Polish), in soya oil (Canadian), in tomato sauce (Polish) or in hot sauce (Canadian). They also sell ‘kippers’ (also Atlantic herring, just grown a little larger) in both plain and smoked varieties - these come from Canada.
Note that there is also a Canadian company called Brunswick: it is a separate company (and uses a different logo) from the Australian Brunswick that operates in New Zealand. Ours is owned by Freedom Foods Group and theirs by Connors Bros. To add to the confusion, ‘Freedom Foods Group’ Brunswick sardines from the Bay of Fundy in Canada appear to be processed by Connors Bros., although their others are all independently sourced.
Pacific Crown didn’t answer my enquiries. Their website states that they sell ”deep-sea harvested … sardines… caught using … sustainable Pacific fishing practices.” They provide no indication as to which species they are catching or where they are fishing, and no information is given about worker rights either on the boats or in the processing facility. I would be unwilling to buy from any company under those circumstances. I will not be buying Pacific Crown sardines.
All of our suppliers are expected to adhere to robust food safety standards and the relevant legislation, including labour laws, in place in either New Zealand or their country of business.
Foodstuffs in no way, shape or form has ever or will ever knowingly stock a product that is the result of illegal business practices or slave labour.
When I asked them whether they in any way checked whether child or slave labour occurred in their supply chain, they simply reiterated that they would never knowingly stock anything where it had. They also didn’t answer when I asked where they sourced their sardines, and they didn’t provide any information about any agreements they make with suppliers in terms of verifying working conditions.
This doesn’t give me any confidence that Pams sardines are child or slave labour free. Such practices are illegal throughout the world and so are hidden: unless Pams actively looks for evidence of such things occurring in their supply chain they will not be aware of them. To simply say they do not ‘knowingly’ permit them is close to meaningless. I will not be buying sardines from Pams.
‘Mackerel’ can refer to any of more than 30 different species of mid-size oily pelagic fish. In New Zealand waters three ‘jack mackerel’ species are fished commercially, but tinned mackerel in New Zealand is as likely to be from overseas sources as we don’t have any fish canneries here.
Mackerel are found throughout the world in deep water well out to sea. Larger species are generally caught by trawls and drift nets, whereas smaller species (such as Jack Mackerels) tend to school near the surface and so are better caught with purse seine nets.
As with any deep-water fish, mackerel fishing is at high risk for forced labour as the fishing boats tend to be out at sea for long periods of time.
I have not found any specific cases of child or forced labour in mackerel processing factories. However, mackerel is commonly processed in countries where the seafood processing sector is considered to be at high risk for such abuses, so it would be advisable to restrict your purchases to brands that audit their factories or use factories with independent, audited certifications.
Just Kai contacted two mackerel brands to ask about labour rights in their supply chains: Sealord (with regards to their ‘smoked flavour fish fillets’, which the small print reveals are mackerel) and Pacific Crown. Only Sealord replied; our assessment of Pacific Crown is based on the information on their websites. The only one we consider slave free is Sealord; note that they only sell smoked mackerel.
Sealord’s smoked flavour fish fillets (available in 310g and 450g tins) are labelled as containing New Zealand caught mackerel processed in Viet Nam. From email correspondence (10/8/22) we learned that the mackerel is caught by Sealord vessels in New Zealand and is processed by Pataya Food Industries in Viet Nam.
From correspondence (1/5/18) we learned that Sealord uses New Zealand flagged, Ukrainian-crewed vessels to catch mackerel. The crew are all employed under New Zealand law and working conditions, and the vessels regularly have MPI observers on these boats to check conditions are adhered to. We are thus confident this fish is slave-free at the fishing vessel stage.
Pataya Food (the parent company of the Vietnamese factory used for processing) is a member of the Thai Tuna Industry Association, and that membership includes audits for child and forced labour. Sealord has confirmed (10/8/22) that the same working conditions and standards apply at this factory as at their Thai factories. We thus also consider this fish to be slave-free at the canning stage.
We thus consider Sealord’s smoked flavour fish fillets to be slave-free. They are available in 310g and 450g tins.
Pacific Crown didn’t answer my enquiries. Their website states that they sell ”deep-sea harvested … mackerel… caught using … sustainable Pacific fishing practices.” From the tins you can see that they sell jack mackerel, blue mackerel and ‘mackerel’. The tins also state that they are a product of Thailand, so they are at least canned (and possibly also caught) in Thailand.
Given the high prevalence of forced and child labour throughout the Thai fishing industry, I refuse to buy any Thai fish products that don’t demonstrate that they have made reasonable efforts to prevent such practices. Without that, it’s basically certain such practices occurred somewhere along the chain. I will not be buying Pacific Crown mackerel and do not recommend anyone else who has any concern about human rights to do so either.