KUALA LUMPUR, July 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world's largest canned tuna company, Thai Union Group PCL, on Tuesday announced a deal with environmentalists to tackle overfishing and potential labour abuse, in the latest bid to clean up the beleaguered Thai seafood industry.
Thailand's multibillion-dollar seafood sector has come under fire in recent years after investigations showed widespread slavery, trafficking and violence on fishing boats and in onshore food processing factories.
The industry, under pressure from decades of overfishing and demand for cheap seafood, turned to slave labour, according to rights groups.
Under an agreement with environmental group Greenpeace, Thai Union said it would take steps towards sustainably caught tuna in its supply chain while ensuring all workers are "safe".
"Thai Union recognises that as a leader in the seafood sector, the operational changes and policies we introduce have a positive impact across the entire industry," its global director of sustainability Darian McBain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Among its measures, Thai Union pledged to have human or electronic observers on the vessels it sources from, to allow for inspection and reporting of labour abuse.
Greenpeace said the company also agreed to introduce a code of conduct to ensure workers are treated "humanely and fairly", while reducing the use of the "fish aggregating devices" - floating objects used to increase catch but that also harm ocean life.
Greenpeace and Thai Union will meet every six months to assess progress.
Greenpeace, which had confronted vessels supplying Thai Union in protest previously, said it hoped other industry players will follow suit.
It said conditions for labourers on more than 400 vessels supplying Thai Union will improve if the reforms are implemented.
"This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life, and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry," Greenpeace international executive director Bunny McDiarmid said.
Thai Union - with brands such as Chicken of the Sea, John West and Petit Navire - has invested $90 million in initiatives to ensure 100 percent of its tuna is sustainably sourced, with a commitment to achieving a minimum of 75 percent by 2020.
The company last year said it would eliminate recruitment fees for its workers, a move aimed at preventing labourers from racking up debts to job brokers and from being exploited and abused.
Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org