In 2017, Thai Union introduced its Vessel Improvement Program and Code of Conduct (VCoC). Our aim was to not only provide clear guidance about working conditions on board the vessels which the Company sources from, but also to encourage continuous improvement for better practices at sea. Through this, Thai Union is working to ensure that our suppliers do not engage in forced labor, bonded labor, child labor, or discrimination.
The VCoC is an extension of Thai Union’s Business Ethics and Labor Code of Conduct and is signed by all new suppliers before entering a new business relationship. Thai Union is also working to ensure all existing suppliers sign the Code.
Since we launched the VCoC, Thai Union has been working to implement two audit programs – one specifically for vessels in Thailand and the second for tuna vessels that are not Thai flagged. For over two years, we have worked closely with experienced consultants who have conducted the third party audits against the principles and clauses outlined in the VCoC and we have learnt a lot, which has informed the growth in the program.
There has been an enormous amount of work done through the program to engage with the fishers, stakeholders and suppliers in this process. The audits, which also support our work towards United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, have been completed in accordance with industry best practice standards and are conducted on a rolling basis on vessels that Thai Union sources from (Thai Union owns no vessels).
For the tuna audit program, between August 2018 and September 2020, audits have been conducted on purse seine, pole and line and longline vessels fishing in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. This has involved:
- Conducting confidential interviews with over 850 crew;
- Auditing 119 vessels, including 25 remotely;
- Auditing 29 suppliers;
- Successfully developing a new process to allow auditing work to continue in 2020 post-COVID-19;
- Revision of the VCoC and accompanying Guidance Document in 2020.
Aggregated results of the two audit programs up until the end of last year can be found in our Sustainability Report 2019. For Principles 1, 3, 5 and 8, there was a high level of meeting the clauses (over 75 percent met). In comparison, for Principles 2, 9 and 10 the vessels met the clauses less and had more Areas For continuous Improvement (AFIs) identified.
What has stood out during this process has been the number of companies that have achieved a high level of compliance, including operating their businesses with integrity, treating workers with respect and dignity. Among these have been Caroline Fisheries (Federated States of Micronesia), which operate longline and purse seine vessels, whose vessels demonstrated a high level of compliance across the VCoC principles; Tunago (Taiwan), which operates longline vessels, whose vessels have achieved making the highest number of improvements; and Ping Tai Rong (China), whose vessels have had a high level of engagement and improvements in progress. Tunago and PTR make up the Longline FIP in the Pacific which Thai Union are part of, see here for more information.
We’ve also been particularly pleased with a number of other companies that have been actively involved in efforts to complete any AFIs identified in the audits and that have an overall high level of achieving the VCoC clauses. These companies, all of which operate tuna purse seine vessels from which Thai Union sources from, are Albacora (Spain), Sapmer (France), Echebaster (Spain) and Saupiquet/Bolton (French/Italian). Each of these companies have demonstrated that work on their vessels is conducted voluntarily with no forced or compulsory labor; workers are paid fair wages and work reasonable hours; and their health and safety are protected at work.
Since the start of the VCoC Thai Union has been clear that through this program we will work with our suppliers and have been keen that the measure of success of the program is the amount of improvement work that can be achieved through it. Thai Union is committed to continuing this program with our partners and suppliers and hope to see continuing success in 2021 – thanks to everyone who has been involved for their time, patience and efforts.