Greenpeace says “poor ranking” of StarKist canned tuna not fault of Am Samoa’s cannery workers

The “poor ranking” of StarKist Co., canned tuna product “is not the fault of Samoan workers” at the American Samoa processing plant, but the company itself as well as its owner, Dongwon Industries, says John Hocevar, director of Ocean Campaign at Greenpeace USA.

Last month global environmental group, Greenpeace USA, released its second-ever canned tuna ranking, which placed Tri Marine’s product Ocean Naturals at 4th place, while criticizing the nation’s three largest US brands — Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and StarKist — of continuing to hold the industry back from the sweeping changes that are desperately needed.

Of the 20 canned tuna product ranked by Greenpeace, StarKist “Chunk Light Tuna” was placed last — at the bottom of the list. Greenpeace’s verdict says, “Failed again! StarKist continues its trend of ocean destruction.” (See Samoa News edition Apr. 19th for details.)

Placing the StarKist tuna product at the bottom of the list “kind of kills the morale of Samoan workers” at StarKist Samoa cannery, according to some workers and family members of cannery workers, who contacted Samoa News in the past several weeks.

Additionally, the lower ranking of the StarKist tuna product, "appears to make it sound that they — the local Samoan workers — are not doing a good job", workers and family members says, adding that cannery workers makes minimum wage, and are hard workers, but an international group’s low score “is a let down for Samoan workers, who are doing their job and doing it honestly every day.”

Responding to a Samoa News request for reaction or comments on local workers concerns, Hocevar said, "To be clear, this poor score is not the fault of Samoan cannery workers — it is a result of decisions made at the company's headquarters in Pittsburgh, and by their parent company Dongwon in [South] Korea.”

“In fact, it is the workers — including those in canneries — that we want to see treated with dignity and respect throughout the company's supply chain,” Hocevar said yesterday. “It is up to Dongwon and Starkist to ensure that happens from the fishing vessels to the canneries to the trucks delivering products to stores around the globe.”

StarKist corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist told Samoa News last month after the Greenpeace ranking was released, that the company declined to participate in this Greenpeace survey, which StarKist found, after a detailed review, that the “methodology [used] was arbitrary, unscientific, and did not meet basic standards for a credible research instrument.”

“In addition, the survey did not appear to be constructed with adherence to any independent protocols or peer review,” she said. “The survey questions themselves reflect the public policy agenda of the Greenpeace organization, and not those of any other group in the scientific and fisheries management communities — groups with actual standing and expertise in these issues.”

Asked for reaction to Faist’s comments, Hocevar told Samoa News yesterday that Greenpeace assessed twenty of the largest canned tuna brands available in the US.

“For each brand, we looked at the companies' sustainability policies, traceability, the health of the tuna stocks, and fishing methods used,” he explained. “We examined what the companies do to ensure their tuna is legal, and that the fishermen who caught it were treated fairly.

“Of all twenty brands we evaluated, Starkist scored the lowest. Starkist's sustainability policies are vague and weak, and there is very little information available to customers. The company's tuna is caught in ways that kill large amounts of sharks, sea turtles and other marine life — including juvenile tuna,” he pointed out.

Hocevar stressed that all tuna brands were assessed by the same criteria “and we were pleased to see that several brands had made considerable progress”, however, StarKist was not among them.”

“Starkist and its parent company Dongwon are too large to take such a casual approach to the responsibility they have for the fish they sell,” he said. “It is time for the company to get serious about sustainability while there are still enough fish to support canneries and processing plants, and to feed people all over the world."

Hocevar also pointed to a story by The Washington Post newspaper on the latest lawsuit, filed recently by Walmart Inc., against StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee — the nation’s largest tuna brands, for alleged price fixing of package seafood products, which are canned and pouch tuna products.

As alleged in the lawsuit filed by Walmart, Hocevar said “it appears that Starkist may have conspired with industry front groups and other tuna companies in an attempt to block more sustainable tuna from entering the US market. Our ocean deserves better than that, and so do the people who depend on it for a living.”

The Washington Post yesterday published a story on the Walmart lawsuit, which states that the tuna companies sought to resist pressure from environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Those groups were pushing to outlaw fishing methods that ensnare other animals besides the tuna, including endangered sea turtles and sharks.

“Executives from Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist were concerned that a switch to a more sustainable method of fishing would decrease supply and put pressure on their margins,” according to the lawsuit as reported by the Washington Post.

Samoa News has been reporting on the price fixing case in the past two years, which currently has more than 1,500 plaintiffs — including major companies, such as K-Mart, and individuals. The lawsuits were consolidated last year and are now heard at the federal court in San Diego under the “package seafood products antitrust litigation” case.

Several plaintiffs — seeking a class action suit — have filed amended complaints, adding new allegations to their original complaints.  Walmart’s latest court filing is not yet available on federal electronic court records, which yesterday showed several more amended complaints filed in the last two weeks.

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