Workers’ rights, climate change, food waste: Thai Union says still a long way to go in sustainability crusade

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Seafood giant Thai Union has unveiled a raft of new sustainability initiatives, spanning employee rights, climate change and food loss. ©Getty Images
Seafood giant Thai Union has unveiled a raft of new sustainability initiatives, spanning employee rights, climate change and food loss. ©Getty Images

Related tags Thai Union Sustainability

Seafood giant Thai Union has unveiled a raft of new sustainability initiatives, spanning employee rights, climate change and food loss, as it pledges to build on the high scores it received in the international Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI).

The firm captured the second global ranking in the DJSI’s Food Products Industry Index, receiving 99th​ and 100th​ percentile scores for various assessed criteria including governance, economic, environment and social, with an overall 99th​ percentile sustainability score.

DJSI assesses some 8,000 companies globally, and within the food industry category, Thai Union only lost out to Colombia’s Grupo Nutresa which ranked in the 100% percentile overall for sustainability.

“There are immense challenges for businesses, especially global businesses, and the seafood industry that is continuously [to] achieve sustainability targets, and this takes an enormous amount of work and commitment,”​ said Thai Union President and CEO Thiraphong Chansiri.

“[Being listed on the DJSI] is a moment of great pride for us [and] recognises how sustainability is integrated into our business practices and how we do business, [but we realise] there is still an incredible amount to be done [and] have great ambitions to continue pushing this transformation that will benefit the wider seafood industry.”

Many of Thai Union’s major sustainability initiatives come under its SeaChange 2025 global sustainability strategy. One of those already been implemented is its Tuna Commitment 2025, which commits that by 2025, the firm’s tuna sources will all come from vessels and suppliers that ‘demonstrate Operational Best Practices to prevent Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and modern slavery’​.

Operational Best Practices include Marine Stewardship Council certification, vessels with human or electronic monitoring at sea, meeting International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) conservation measures and more. Major species of tuna involved include albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin.

“In tuna, we need to understand as much as possible about the fisheries (meaning the areas of the sea where the tuna fish tend to be found, not a particular enclosed area), the origins of the fish, and the environmental impacts of fishing in these [in order to ensure sustainable practices are applied],”​ Thai Union Global Director for Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Dr Darian McBain told FoodNavigator-Asia ​previously.

“Vessel monitoring is very crucial, whether this be human observers or the installation of electronic monitoring, as this is necessary to give us a clear view and better transparency of what goes on at sea.”

Moving forward, the firm will be implementing several new initiatives under SeaChange to boost its sustainability credentials. From January 1 2022, Thai Union will be transitioning to a full Employer Pays Principle when recruiting migrant workers – a principle that ensures the cost of recruitment is borne by the employer and not the worker.

“[We are] committing to a full Employer Pays Principle next year [in respect of] universal human rights. In practical terms, Thai Union will bear all recruitment-related fees and costs for all migrant workers [recruited] after January 1 2022, and will also publish an updated Ethical Migrant Recruitment Policy by the end of this year,”​ Chansiri and Thai Union Group Chairman Cheng Niruttinanon said via a formal statement.

“Providing safe, legal and freely-chosen employment in our own facilities and supply chains is an important pillar in our global sustainability strategy SeaChange.”

Thai Union also announced that it would be developing a formal Climate Change Strategy which will include a goal in line with the Science Based Targets Initiative, a collaboration between the UN, World Wide Fund for nature, World Resources Institute and Carbon Disclosure Project.

Food waste and packaging pollution

Earlier this year, the firm also announced a commitment to food loss and waste reduction, targeting a 50% reduction of food loss in its own ambient, frozen and chilled seafood operations by 2025, based on a 2021 baseline.

This included actions to reduce waste disposal to landfill and the upcycling of various inedible tuna parts into high-value products, such as the extraction of DHA-rich Omega-3 tuna oil from tuna heads, turning tuna bones into calcium supplements, and extracting collagen from tuna skin.

Packaging is also a major area of sustainability interest for most big food firms, and this is no different for Thai Union – according to Dr McBain, plastics in particular are a major concern so the firm is looking at ways to reduce this.

“Ocean plastics are a major topic in South East Asia, and even more so for us as a seafood company. We definitely need to pay attention to this as consumers might also worry about the health of the fish they are consuming and whether this might affect them if the surrounding ocean is polluted,”​ she said.

“Thai Union is targeting this from a packaging perspective and we have committed to ensure 100% of our branded packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and to have 30% average recycled content in our branded packaging by 2025 too.

“This will include the exploration of sustainable packaging in our innovation, such as technologies to reduce pouch thickness or researching alternative materials for our product packaging.”

The firm is also working on various other packaging-related programmes including initiatives to phase out single-use plastics, to increase the use of recycled materials, and R&D by its Global Innovation Centre to develop recyclable and compostable packaging.

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