By Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky
Every time you eat in a restaurant, hospital, airport, university cafeteria, or even at a rock concert, it is likely that you are eating food provided by a large foodservice company. Sea of Distress, a brand new Greenpeace report, highlights which large food companies are failing to protect workers and our oceans.
Home to one million species, covering over seventy percent of our planet, providing life-sustaining oxygen (every other breath we take), and providing food for billions of people globally—the world’s oceans are a beautiful and mysterious place. Like many ecosystems on planet Earth, our oceans are under constant threats from climate change to pollution. The global seafood industry is quite effective at emptying our oceans in the quest for profits, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, and up to 100 million sharks a year all while driving some fish stocks toward the brink of collapse.
We are in dangerous waters as the global seafood industry continues to expand and increase the amount of seafood it produces every year. Despite the science, corporate greed continues to harm the world’s oceans and the people who work to supply seafood or rely on it for their livelihoods. Since the 1970s, Greenpeace has campaigned to protect marine life and the world’s oceans. Today our mission is ever more critical.
The U.S. is a big market for seafood with the power to globally influence whether companies properly steward the oceans or continue to exploit them. Every day, roughly half of the money Americans spend on food outside the home is gobbled up by the foodservice industry. But, what exactly is foodservice? Companies that buy, transport, cook, or serve the food you get at Subway, Burger King, a Beyoncé show or the Super Bowl, Walmart corporate cafeterias, the University of Kentucky, Chicago Public Schools, Yosemite National Park, Hilton hotels, or even in the U.S. Capitol’s cafeterias.
Foodservice is one of the largest industries we frequent often, but most of us know nothing about. These companies buy and sell billions of dollars of seafood annually, and some of it is destructively caught and potentially connected to forced labor. Consumers have a right to know where their seafood comes from, and whether the establishments where they go out to eat are linked to ocean destruction or forced labor.
How do the companies rank that supply and serve up tuna at Subway, fried shrimp at Disney World, or a tuna salad sandwich in a cafeteria for Toyota employees?
Glad you asked.
A new Greenpeace report, Sea of Distress, ranks the seafood sustainability and social responsibility of foodservice companies. Just three companies passed: Sodexo, Compass Group, and Aramark, while two of the largest companies—Sysco and US Foods—are among the twelve that failed.
Many companies are supplied by Thai Union Group, the largest tuna company in the world that owns U.S. brand Chicken of the Sea and supplies supermarkets like Walmart and Kroger. Thai Union is notorious for ocean destruction. And some of its seafood supply chains have been linked to human rights abuses, where seafood workers were forced to work under horrendous conditions for months with no escape. From the halls of Congress to your university, favorite restaurant, or workplace – you could be eating seafood connected to ocean destruction or human rights abuses.
It’s easy to make informed choices at the supermarket, but when you’re eating in a cafeteria or at a football game you could be eating seafood connected to ocean destruction or even human rights abuses and you’d never know.
Foodservice companies (e.g., Sysco, US Foods), large clients (e.g., Subway, Yosemite National Park, Kroger), and consumers have the power to transform a global industry ripping up the sea and exploiting workers. It’s time for companies profiting off of ocean destruction and mistreated workers to change. For example, as one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, Kroger could demand that Sysco—its supplier for food at delis and convenience stores nationwide—only provide sustainable, ethical canned tuna. To honor Kroger’s request, Sysco could in turn demand that one of its tuna suppliers—Thai Union—guarantee that any tuna it provides Sysco is sustainably and ethically caught, requiring the tuna giant improve its operations and helping to create change on the water.
Both foodservice companies and their clients need to have strong, public-facing policies that ensure they only provide sustainable seafood and protect workers’ rights from the U.S. to Southeast Asia. Consumers deserve traceable seafood, transparency, and a guarantee that their hard-earned money is not supporting ocean destruction or forced labor.
Whether you’re grabbing a snack at a Kroger deli, sitting down for dinner at Red Lobster, or getting lunch between classes at George Washington University, ask the person serving you seafood if it is supplied by Thai Union. Ask whether it is green-rated “Best Choice” seafood according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Ask if the food provider guarantees that the seafood it serves is sustainably and ethically procured. If you don’t like their responses, take your business elsewhere. You can also try reducing your seafood consumption to help lessen pressure on our oceans and ensure fish for the future.
To learn more about the best and worst performing companies, check out Sea of Distress.
Greenpeace is the leading independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.