Feb 15th, 2022
By Tracy Murai
Responsible Sourcing Manager, Europe
Thai Union is committed to being an agent of change and leader in creating improvements both on and in the water for people and the environment.
Globally, fish caught in our oceans, lakes and rivers are an important source of animal protein, and as the world’s seafood leader, we understand that sustainability is crucial to maintaining and preserving this vital source of nutrition.
Last October, Thai Union was ranked number one on the Seafood Stewardship Index (SSI) – developed by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) – for the second consecutive time for its performance delivering towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). During a panel discussion at the Tokyo Sustainable Seafood Summit in October – where the SSI result was announced – WBA said that whilst they were conducting the SSI review, they found that companies made numerous commitments to drive improvement but found little evidence on how those commitments translate into actions on the ground, whether that’s working with suppliers, workers, fishers or farmers or all of the above. When it comes to Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs), even though FisheryProgress now provides greater transparency into the contribution of different FIP members, sharing details into what these contributions look like can improve stakeholder trust but also inspire other companies on what they can to support and be directly involved improvements.
At Thai Union, we are continually exploring how to improve transparency and make sure it’s clear what our commitments mean, and showing that we are doing what we say. So it was really interesting for us to hear this feedback – and it made us want to act on it. We realized that there was more of our work that would be of interest to an external audience. In this blog we wanted to outline some of the ways we are making improvements and also the channels that we use to present the information.
First thing to mention would be the actions that Thai Union staff take to explain our business strategy and the changes we are trying to make to suppliers, customers and many others; we participate in initiatives with our competitors, NGOs and other collaborations such as the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS); working through potential solutions to challenges with academic institutes, workers’ unions and independent consultancy firms; and developing and implementing our codes of conduct.
“The Seafood Stewardship Index not only rewards companies that perform well but also those that have set robust goals in line with the SDGs and can demonstrate credible progress towards those goals within a reasonable timeframe. This is why transparency around activities that contribute to making credible progress is a key element assessed that we assessed as it allows companies to be held accountable by their stakeholders,“ said Helen Packer, Lead, Seafood Stewardship Index.
It is also worth noting that Thai Union’s dedicated website for its global sustainability strategy, SeaChange®, hosts extensive information about our projects and work programs (and blogs like this!). In 2021 we joined the Ocean Disclosure Project, publishing the global list of fisheries and farms that the Company sources from. Separately, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP), an NGO, rates the progress of all of the Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) that Thai Union is involved with, which are then published on an independent website.
Driving Continuous Improvement
Thai Union is firmly committed to improving our SSI score and to promoting and demonstrating how important it is to engage with third-party assessment processes such as these.
And so, with the WBA feedback in mind, and following my own recent visits to two places that we source tuna from late last year, we thought it would be a useful exercise to describe how Thai Union works to be an agent for change, together with our suppliers, to drive continuous improvement in the seafood sector. Both of the fisheries that we visited in Mauritius and Ghana are working on FIPs to achieve certification to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and are working through our Vessel Improvement Program and Code of Conduct (VCoC) – which are components of the Thai Union Tuna Commitment and suppliers meeting ‘Operational Best Practice’.
It’s important to note that while travel has been severely disrupted due to COVID-19, the work has always continued. We remain engaged with our suppliers and the consultants that are managing some of these projects for us; we have been conducting remote audits against the VCoC; and the FIPs have been maintaining their progress ratings by SFP.
So what did we achieve during our trips to Ghana and Mauritius as part of our drive for continuous improvement?
In 2021, Thai Union launched its Tuna Commitment to 2025 and with ongoing improvement programs running in our supply chains we wanted to discuss this with our suppliers and reaffirm our commitment to delivering MSC-certified fisheries and completing improvement projects to have the vessels meet the VCoC. We wanted to explain any aspects of our programs which may not be clear such as what the MSC process entails, explore how changes can be made which work with their business model and outline some of the actions we had picked up which weren’t in line with anticipated timelines – to see if we could help or remove any barriers. The trips are an important part of our relationships with suppliers and consultants that we work with. By shadowing the FIP managers and auditors we are able to understand more and support conversations with our own experience. Sitting down together and conducting inspections with suppliers facilitates knowledge and information exchange on how the supply chain can work together to meet higher standards.
In Ghana, Thai Union is involved in two FIPs for the purse seine vessels and the pole and line vessels. Key Traceability consultants are managing the FIPs and implementing the VCoC program together with a local consultant. The VCoC work started in 2018 and suppliers are implementing work plans to address Areas For continuous Improvement (AFIs) that were identified during audits. Thai Union engages in this work at a supplier level but also with the Ghana Tuna Association (GTA) on actions that are common across their member’s vessels.
During our visit, we met with the GTA and its members, and separately with the Ghana Fisheries Commission, to discuss a number of topics, including:
We also made unannounced visits on board vessels that were docked along the quayside to inspect the vessel and speak to the crew. We were also able to observe the use of biodegradable material on board – which supported the delivery of the action plans of the FIPs and compliance with ISSF conservation measures.
In Mauritius, Thai Union is involved in a FIP called the Indian Ocean Long Line FIP, which is managed by Key Traceability. We met with the supplier, visited the port where the vessels were docked, held meetings with the crew and captains, and trained the 18 captains in the ISSF skippers course. For the VCoC program, all of the 35 vessels in the FIP have been audited, with six vessels having had re-audits. We discussed the on-going vessel improvement work and the remaining actions to be completed.
During our visit, we presented Thai Union’s sourcing polices along with our Tuna Commitment and had wide-ranging discussions across various topics including:
The Vessel Code of Conduct and Improvement program
Each year, we publish a summary of the work completed in the Sustainability Report, for example number of vessels audited, findings and actions taken to address them. We also published a blog in 2021 explaining more details of our tuna suppliers. We have outlined in the Sustainability report, that results of the program have been fairly consistent with which VCoC Principles have the most AFIs identified in them. The following are some of those findings and then the actions that have been taken or are planned to address the finding.
The big picture
Thai Union participates in many global technical groups and committees and works with key experts and partners on improving work conditions and fishing practises on board vessels. Many of the findings from the VCoC program echo findings in fishing fleets around the world and we use our experience to inform and support better practices throughout the sector. Creating change for both fishers and in the water is reliant on our relationship and commitment from our suppliers, to work together, and meet higher standards. We use every effort to support them meet new standards, providing expertise and a suitable timeframe for improvements, however, if we see suppliers not making progress or willing to work with us and our consultants then we will review our relationships. This will make sure that we are engaging with those that are in alignment with our vision for the industry.