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Spanish processors are to examine labour conditions of tuna imports

16 December 2012

The Spanish association of fish processors, ANFACO, has clarified that, although they will not stop importing tuna from the Philippines, they will exercise ‘extreme controls of the raw material from Philippine companies that do not respect labour standards’ set by the ILO. The Philippines is the second largest world tuna raw material producer, and the fifth largest canned tuna producer. According to Eurostat data presented by Anfaco, 16% of yellowfin tuna raw material imports into Spain come from the Philippines.

This decision comes after a report, produced by the organisation Verité was released by ANFACO. Verité carried out research on the presence of indicators of forced labour in the production chain (fishing and processing) of tuna in the Philippines. The findings highlight serious abuses in both the fishing and processing sector, including:

  • basic products needed by workers (such as food, cigarettes, alcohol, water and protective clothing) are often sold at inflated prices by the owner; indebted workers then being required to repay through deductions from their wages, often leaving them with no profit;
  • contracts of employment often do not exist; during fishing, specific terms such as the length of the trip, the destination, or the level of earnings, can change during the trip;  because of the physical isolation of workers on vessels, they have no recourse.

The fact that products coming from such operations can freely enter the EU market is opposed by Spanish importers as well as purse-seiners’ organisations. The Spanish minister in charge of Fisheries has recognised that ‘there is unfair competitiveness in the sea and on land’ and that measures should be applied ‘without discrimination between operators from the European Union (EU) and those from other countries’.

This is happening at a time when EU and ASEAN (including the Philippines) continue to negotiate a free-trade area. Currently, apart from 9,000 tonnes paying a 12% tariff, canned tuna imports face a 24% tariff. Any further liberalisation of the tuna trade would affect the Spanish industry. 

Editorial comment

For EU fisheries stakeholders, establishing a level playing field between EU products and imports that they feel come from sources applying lower standards, is very much a priority. Until this case was raised by the Spanish industry, most attention had been paid to the standards applying to the environmental production of imports, and little attention to labour conditions, or to indications of forced labour. In the particular cas of the Philippines tuna sector, the Spanish industry is exploring how this issue can be taken into account in the context of the current negotiations for an FTA between the EU and ASEAN. However, these recent developments show that more pressure will be put on the EU by its own fishing sector to look at these labour aspects for all fish products traded, including for imports from the ACP. 


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