Slavery in fishmeal supply: IFFO looks for ways to widen global standard to ensure worker safety

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fishmeal

Slavery in fishmeal supply: IFFO looks for ways to widen global standard to ensure worker safety
The IFFO, the marine ingredients organization, wants to extend the remit of its RS global fishmeal and fishoil standard so that it takes into account the conditions of workers employed on fishmeal supply boats.

In June, the Guardian​ alleged slavery in Thailand’s shrimp sector, with workers, who had fled enslavement on boats supplying the Thai shrimp industry, reporting horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings.  

The UK newspaper says slave ships catch huge quantities of ‘trash fish’, which, on being landed, go to factories where the fish is ground down into fishmeal for onward sale to leading shrimp producers.

Andy Jackson, technical director at IFFO, told this publication today: “All our stakeholders want to broaden the standard to cover the treatment of employees all the way back in the chain to the fishing vessels but, right now, to be honest, we are scratching our heads as to how this can be achieved in a credible, measurable and affordable way.

There can be anything from 400 to 500 vessels supplying raw materials to fishmeal processing plants. How do you survey the working conditions on board these supply boats? We are looking at ideas, we are open to receiving solutions to this from all avenues and the IFFO board meeting in October will review this issue and how we might solve it.”

CP Feeds gets IFFO Chain of Custody award

Earlier this month, Thai feed and food giant, CP Foods (CPF), was granted the IFFO RS Chain of Custody award due to the fact it was able to demonstrate responsible purchasing of a percentage of its fishmeal inputs.

The Thai group is currently sourcing IFFO RS approved products from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Packaging & Canning Ltd (SEAPAC) plant - the first Asian factory to be audited and declared compliant against the RS standard for its tuna by-product derived fishmeal and fish oil.

Jackson said CPF is aiming to increase the number of factories that will be able to supply it with RS approved feed ingredients, and is working closely with a number of interested parties in Thailand, India and Vietnam in this regard.

“Clearly, some of the factories in CPF's fishmeal supply chain are going to have to work a lot harder than others to comply with the RS standard,” ​said the IFFO representative.

RS standard

The RS standard was developed by a multi-stakeholder group including producers, feed manufactures, fish processors, retailers and environmental NGOs. Currently there are over 100 factories certified to the standard producing around 40% of the world’s production of fishmeal and fish oil.

A factory must be able to demonstrate the use of industry leading quality management systems to control production and full traceability.

All RS products must have been produced from whole fish that came from fisheries that were managed according to the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing or by-products which are demonstrably not from illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing.  

Shrimp chain audit

Last month, CPF said it was auditing its entire shrimp chain to ensure it is slavery free, and that it had been addressing the problem for the past 15 months.

CPF admits that slave labor is part of its supply chain. 

The issue of endemic slavery in Thailand’s seafood supply chain affects all producers in Thailand as they all use by-catch to produce their fishmeal in the same way.​ 

As purchasers of fishmeal, CP Foods has been actively working to solve this problem since April 2013 and will continue to do so.

We are now in the process of auditing our entire operation so that we can introduce an independent spot-check system across our supply chain to ensure it is and continues to be slavery free,” ​said the Thailand-headquartered group. 

Thailand is the world's largest shrimp exporter, shipping out around 500,000 tons of shrimp every year – nearly 10% of which is farmed by CPF alone.

The UN and non-governmental organizations have raised the flag on forced labor in the Thai fishing industry before but the Guardian says its report reveals for the first time the link between the slave ships and shrimp producers and retailers.

Illegal, unregulated and uncertified fishing

Bob Miller, CPF UK managing director, told the Guardian: "We know there are issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don't have visibility."

The Thai group said it currently uses fishmeal as a minor component in the production of fish feed at its feed mills. 

This fishmeal, said CPF, is produced by independent suppliers from a combination of by-catch, sometimes described as ‘trash fish’, or fish by-product caught around the seas of Thailand. 

“Fishmeal attracts controversy because it can be produced using by-catch that is sometimes caught as a result of illegal, unregulated and uncertified fishing (IUU),”​ added CPF. 

The company said it is aiming to tighten the control of its fishmeal procurement and, thereby, will help to clamp down on IUU fishing.

CFP said its goal is to ensure at least 50% of the supply comes from certified fisheries by next year.

By 2017, it is aiming to have zero use of fishmeal produced from ‘trash fish’ and, by 2021, it wants to completely eliminate the use of fishmeal in its shrimp feed. 


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