Blog: Dean BestGreenpeace trains sights on Sainsbury's over John West tuna

Dean Best | 22 November 2016

Greenpeace's long-running campaign against UK tuna brand John West, owned by seafood giant Thai Union Group, is now directing its fire against Sainsbury's.

The NGO's largest ship arrived in London at the weekend as part of a campaign to de-list John West.

"The crew aboard the Esperanza have seen first-hand the harmful fishing gear used to catch John West’s tuna in the Indian Ocean and they’ve come to London to join the 100,000 people who have already told Sainsbury’s it’s totally unacceptable for them to continue to profit from it," Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ariana Densham said.

‘Other retailers like Tesco and Waitrose have already committed to remove John West’s tuna and Tesco has even started taking their tins off shelves. Sainsbury’s prides itself on its reputation as a sustainable business, but for as long as it continues to profit from John West’s unsustainable seafood, it’s killing our oceans."

In a more guerilla-style tactic, Greenpeace activists have also been going into Sainsbury's stores and hiding tins of John West tuna.

Densham said: "‘Sainsbury’s presents itself as a supermarket that takes ethics and sustainability seriously. So we’re sending Sainsbury’s a message that it’s ludicrous they source sustainable fish for their own brand tuna while continuing to stock harmful John West tuna on the next shelf."

In 2011, John West announced a commitment to sell sustainably-sourced tuna. It outlined plans to source 100% of its UK sales of tuna by a combination of pole and line and purse seine FAD-free (fish aggregation devices) methods by the end of 2016.

Greenpeace claimed last year 2% of John West's tuna was caught using sustainable methods.

For its part, Sainsbury's says it is in talks with John West about its fishing practices and how the business plans to improve them.

"John West is working with the WWF to meet defined targets by 2018. As with other retailers, we have been absolutely clear that we’re monitoring their sustainability status and will re-consider our relationship if standards do not improve," Judith Batchelar, the director of the Sainsbury's brand, said yesterday.

However, pointing to Sainsbury's involvement with so-called fishery improvement projects, set up by the US-based non-profit Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, Batchelar added: "We know it's more effective to work with businesses to tackle issues rather than simply turning our backs."

In a statement provided to just-food, John West said it "respects Greenpeace's position" and added: "We share their vision for healthy seas for generations to come. However, we cannot support the methods it uses to highlight its campaigns. John West and our parent company, Thai Union, are doing everything we can to change our own operations and introduce improvements into the global seafood industry.

"For tuna in particular, we are working with many different stakeholders to implement Fishery
Improvement Projects that will ensure sustainability and bring tuna fisheries to the level of the MSC
standard. Greenpeace knows this - we meet with them regularly. However, they choose to continue to target
John West and Thai Union, attempting to undermine our efforts."

In July, Tesco dropped some John West tuna products over concerns about how the products were sourced.

However, at the time, John West told just-food Tesco's move "was driven by commercial negotiations as much as sustainability considerations".

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