BANGKOK (Reuters) - Environmental activist group Greenpeace on Monday urged the world's largest manufacturer of canned tuna, Thai Union Group Pcl, to free its supply chains of destructive fishing practices and alleged labor abuses.
It warned Thai Union, which makes the U.S. "Chicken of the Sea" brand and counts Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale Corp among buyers, that the fishing methods it and its suppliers employ have serious environmental impacts and carry reputational risks.
The Greenpeace action comes as Thailand faces pressure from the European Union to clean up illegal fishing practices or face a trade ban.
It could also jeopardize Thai Union's plan to acquire U.S. rival Bumble Bee, which awaits approval from U.S. antitrust authorities.
Greenpeace said it would work to make "every single customer" aware of the alleged abuses, until Thai Union took responsibility and demonstrated real leadership.
"We can no longer allow Thai Union Group and its brands around the world, including Chicken of the Sea, to sacrifice the world's oceans and jeopardize workers at sea," Greenpeace official Graham Forbes said in a statement.
Greenpeace said two fishing methods primarily used by Thai Union result in by-catch, or fish that was not targeted but caught inadvertently, and are often associated with illegal fishing and rights violations.
Thai Union, formerly known as Thai Union Frozen Products Pcl, said in a statement it was committed to responsible sourcing and legal compliance to ensure all supply chains were treated with respect and human rights upheld.
"We call on Greenpeace to enter into an open and transparent dialogue with Thai Union so that together we can work towards achieving our shared objectives," it said.
Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter, was given six months by the EU in April to address issues such as ensuring all fishing vessels were registered, had registered equipment and were fitted with a Vessel Monitoring System.
Labor abuses in the Thai fishing industry are well-documented. Since 2014, the United States has put Thailand on the bottom-ranked Tier 3 in its annual Trafficking in Persons report.
In its 2015 TIP report the U.S. State Department said some Thai and migrant workers were subjected to forced labor on Thai fishing boats with some remaining at sea for several years or paid very little or were threatened and beaten.
The commission will decide in December whether Thailand's seafood exports should be blacklisted.
Brussels also warned Taiwan last week that it was not doing enough to tackle illegal fishing.
(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Khettiya Jittapong; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)