After my recent post “Seafood supplier shift shows sustainability’s significance” I got in touch with Dr. Darian McBain, who is group director of sustainable development at Thai Union group to discuss their work.
Darian kindly agreed to spend some time responding to a few questions for readers. My questions and her answers are below.
TW: Not all our readers outside the seafood sector will know much about Thai Union. Tell us briefly about what you source and sell, and where.
DM: Thai Union Frozen (TUF) Products PCL, also known as the Thai Union Group, is regarded as the world’s largest producer of shelf-stable tuna products with annual sales exceeding USD 3.8 billion (THB120 billion) and a global workforce of over 37,000 people.
The firm is dedicated to producing sustainable, convenient and quality seafood products for healthy, happy families everywhere.
The brand portfolio includes Thai-leading brands Sealect, Fisho and Bellotta; as well as highly recognized international brands Chicken of the Sea in the US, and John West, Petit Navire, Parmentier, Mareblu, King Oscar in Europe and Century brand in China.
Thai Union Group’s main product categories are tuna, shrimp, sardine, mackerel, salmon, pet food and a range of ready to eat meals/value added products.
As a company committing to innovation and globally responsible business practices, Thai Union Group is proud to be a member of the UN Global Compact and a founding member of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).
In 2014 Thai Union was listed as a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and in 2015 we published our second annual sustainability report.
TW: You’ve been cited as one of 13 ‘keystone’ players for sustainability in seafood. Would you agree with this analysis? Does this affect sustainability strategy?
DM: Being the world’s largest producer of shelf-stable tuna products, a significant producer of shrimp and with influence over a number of other seafood supply chains does bring with it responsibility.
Our sustainability principles are focused on sustainable sourcing, responsible labour practices, environmental protection, innovation and product stewardship, and engaging with our communities.
Plos One, the journal where the ’13 keystone players’ statistic came from, is a well-respected and peer reviewed academic journal and I don’t intend to challenge the conclusion for this particular study. We see sustainability as an opportunity as well as a journey.
Our role in the seafood sector gives us enormous scope to influence the sustainability of the oceans, be a leader of change in our industry, and have a positive impact on the communities in which we operate.
As an employer of over 37 000 people globally we have the potential to directly influence many lives through our labour practices and engagement with staff, as well as influence the lives of those working throughout our supply chain.
We also provide nutrition to the world and recognize our role to play in food security.
So to answer your original question, we recognize the role we can play in sustainability and take our responsibilities seriously.
We recognize that the journey involves learning, innovating and basing our decisions on scientific research and to do this we want to work with many partners along the way.
TW: Your overall approach to sustainability, please give us the headlines, targets, priority areas etc
DM: In addition to our sustainability principles outlined in the question above, one of our headline priorities is to achieve transparency and verification of our supply chains.
We are currently going through an extensive process of internal audits, education and engagement, remediation action where required and then external audit.
At first this process seems daunting given the size of our business and the number of suppliers, but we want to make it a part of Thai Union’s business processes so that our customers and consumers can be assured that they are choosing a sustainable product.
This verification process applies to a range of issues from whether the fish was legally caught to the labour conditions of the workers within our supply chain.
Thai Union is about to release a new Business Ethics and Labour Code of Conduct, and engaging both our own staff and our suppliers will be part of the this process.
My role is a newly created one, and part of my responsibilities will be setting global goals and targets in line with our sustainability principles.
Sustainability reporting remains an important part of our communication with stakeholders, along with being measured against global sustainability indices and the development of a new sustainability web portal.
We are also embarking on a number of exciting new partnerships which will focus on priority areas ranging from marine conservation to sustainable livelihoods to better labour practices. Watch this space!
TW: …and some specific detail on your recent announcements around supplier consolidation and the reasons why
DM: We decided to focus on the shrimp supply chain as the first example of a transparent and verifiable supply chain approach. Thai Union joined the Shrimp Sustainable Supply Chain Task Force in November 2014.
It is an international industry alliance including leading retailers, manufacturers, government and NGOs with the goal of ensuring Thailand’s supply chain is free from illegal labour through accountability, verification and transparency.
Working with the Shrimp Task Force, Thai Union is auditing its shrimp supply chain to internationally accepted best standards.
The task force has the goal to complete the formalized internal audit for all local sourced raw materials by the end of 2015, using an internationally accepted standard developed by the task force.
We finished our first pilot audit with UL; a US-based, global independent auditor in March 2015.
Currently, UL has audited approximately one-third of our Thailand-based shrimp feed supply chain and by January 2016 we will have a fully externally audited Thailand shrimp supply chain.
We didn’t specifically set about to consolidate suppliers, but we require our suppliers to behave in a legal and transparent manner and this has meant that some suppliers, for example those who would not provide a Marine Catch Purchasing Document (MCPD) or those refusing to be audited, could no longer work with us.
An important part of this process has been training and engaging our suppliers.
Thai Union has started a training program with the Thai fishing boats crews and brokers for all Thai raw materials. We had conducted training for approximately 30% of the supply chain in July 2015. By November 2015, training with the Thai fishing boat crews and brokers for all Thai raw materials is planned to be completed.
TW: Human rights in seafood has been much in the news recently. You are working with other companies, NGOs and the Thai government on tackling these issues. Tell us a bit about that, and how you see your role in helping government to tackle major institutional problems that go way beyond your day to day work.
DM: This is an interesting and challenging time for the seafood industry because some of the problems, such as the trafficking of persons, cross areas of direct control of companies and countries and enter the realms of geopolitical issues.
No one company or institution can solve these problems alone, although we each have a role to play in finding the solution.
The Royal Thai Government is working proactively to introduce legislation and measures to stop Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing (the subject of the EU ‘yellow card’) and trafficking in persons.
As an industry, we are working to ensure that we do not support illegal labour or illegal fishing practices (for example through the supply chain work outlined above) and we are also working closely with locally based NGOs to help us understand the issues and how best to resolve them.
A recent example of collaborative working is when Thai Union met with the Royal Thai Police and the Issara Institute Foundation to discuss possible solutions on human trafficking problems in the Thai seafood and fishing industry.
The discussion focused on extensive exchange of information to develop improved understanding of the human trafficking issues in Thailand and timely assistance of human trafficking victims by the project Issara.
Further details can be found on our website.
Thai Union sees itself as being an agent for change in the industry, leading to better practices and more sustainable outcomes.
We want to partner with like- minded organisations to create a future in which seafood is seen as a sustainable and viable way to provide nutrition to feed a growing global population.
We know that there are issues that we still need to tackle, but we have started on the journey and are committed to demonstrating sustainable outcomes.
Dr. Darian McBain will be a speaker/participant at Innovation Forum’s PowerPoint free and discussion based event: “Sustainable seafood sourcing: How business can manage global risk and collaborate for sustainable improvements” conference on 25th-26th November 2015 in London.
It’s a two-day conference on how leading retailers, brands and producers can drive transparency, sustainability and collaborate effectively. Come join us. There will be 100-150 retailers, suppliers, NGOs and others having a robust debate at the event.
Other relevant forums below:
How business can tackle deforestation – A make or break issue for Asia’s corporate reputation
28th-29th September 2015, Singapore – For full agenda and speaker list go here.
Ethical Trade and Human Rights Forum (with ETI)
Transforming supply chains for responsible business at scale
October 19-20, London – For draft agenda go here, contact Boris.Petrovic@innovation-forum.co.uk
How business can tackle deforestation
Innovation in sustainable forestry: Technology, risk and collaboration
November 2-3 London – For more information go here.
Sustainability: Why current consumer engagement fails – and how to fix it
November 9th-10th 2015, London – For more information go here.
How to engage with – and improve the lives of – smallholder famers
March 2016, London – For draft agenda contact Boris.Petrovic@innovation-forum.co.uk
For general inquiries contact: Charlenne.Ordonez@innovation-forum.co.uk