Toxic tuna: Daily Telegraph investigation reveals the ‘smelly’ and ‘messy’ conditions at Thai tuna factories linked to poisoned fish
March 09, 2015
- Tuna and mackerel products from Thailand are being tested
- We visited cannery at centre of Sydney food poisoning scare
- Tuna room is ‘smelly’ and ‘messy’ and rubbish is piled at rear
- Unlabelled cans sit in 34C warehouse, labelled when orders arrive
- Hellish conditions for 3,000 migrant workers watched by CCTV
A TUNA cannery located 7500km from the inner Sydney cafe where seven people were struck down with suspected scombroid poisoning is being investigated by federal authorities.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal tuna and mackerel from the ISA Value Co Ltd factory — about 1.5 hours west of Thailand’s capital Bangkok — are being held and tested by the Department of Agriculture.
The factory — run by Thai seafood giant Sea Value Group — has been linked to the John Bull tuna product used by the Soul Origin Cafe near Town Hall station.
A Daily Telegraph investigation has revealed Thailand’s flagship tinned tuna companies are closely monitored by security guards with a network of CCTV cameras watching more than 3000 migrant staff.
Piles of rubbish and crates of empty tuna and pet food tins, both allegedly produced from the same frozen tuna at the factory, sit at the rear of the Unicord factory, also owned Sea Value.
A similar scene was found at its sister factory ISA Value Co Ltd, located further north in the Nakhon Pathom province, where unlabelled cans could be seen sitting in an open warehouse in 34C heat.
It was from this factory that Victorian company FTA Food Solutions sourced the tuna for its popular John Bull catering tuna brand.
Federal and state agriculture and food safety experts are now trying to piece together any link between suspected scombroid poisoning and the tuna.
“ISA Value Co is an externally audited supplier who meet globally recognised standards used in Australia,” an FTA Food Solutions spokeswoman previously told The Daily Telegraph.
A Sea Value Group spokesman said yesterday they had sent their products to labs for testing and they would not “hesitate” on the issue.
“We are awaiting the lab examination results,” the spokesman said.
He said they would comment on the incident once they had received the lab report, which could take a week.
Both Sea Value Group — which operates Unicord and ISA Value — and its competitor Thai Union Frozen group supply the bulk of the world’s tinned tuna.
TUF — worth $3.7 billion — produces popular cheap tuna and fish products for its own John West label and other shopping giants including Woolworths.
The global giant, like its competitors, is required to undergo strict food testing and would need to use food testing laboratories to test for histamine in their fish products.
Inside the tuna factories, teams of migrant workers spend their days moving imported frozen tuna from cold fridges, defrosting the fish in factory water, steaming, filleting, canning and labelling the product for Australian supermarket shelves.
A Sea Value Group migrant worker told The Daily Telegraph labelling only occurred when a brand made an order, with tins left unlabelled if orders failed to keep up with supply.
Several workers described the tuna room as “smelly” and “messy”.
“That’s why I moved into the salmon room, to get away from it,” one TUF worker said.
Migrant workers live near the factories in shanty towns and homes organised by the big tuna companies.
Local workers claimed CCTV cameras and security verification technology were put in place within the factory neighbourhoods to monitor the movements of workers.
A TUF group spokeswoman confirmed it had installed CCTV cameras in migrant “common areas”.
“As one of the employees’ welfare and benefits, we offer accommodation to our Thai and foreign employees based on their personal requirements,” the TUF spokeswoman said. “The surveillance cameras were put in common areas solely for security measure for our employees.”
An ISA Value Co worker told The Daily Telegraph factory employees were not alerted about the alleged Sydney tuna scare.
But the Department of Agriculture has taken the scare seriously.
The department — led by Agriculture Minister and pro-labelling supporter Barnaby Joyce — has issued a holding notice on all tuna and mackerel products from the ISA Value Co factory “linked to the scombroid food poisoning incident”.
“These products are considered to pose a risk to public health and safety due to the current scombroid food poisoning incident in NSW linked to the consumption of canned tuna,” the Department of Agriculture notice said.
The holding orders will require every consignment of fish products from the manufacturer to be “held in place” for inspection and analysis.
While Sea Value Group refused to discuss its pet food production, the TUF spokeswoman said they had “totally separate production facilities in different locations” and operated with “highest safety and hygienic standard” for both human and pet food.
Several popular pet food companies promote the fact their food was made in a “human” factory.
Asked if it employed workers aged under 18, TUF said it would not tolerate “any form of unethical human exploitation”.
Thai seafood companies were rocked last year when reports emerged about an alleged “slave” trade involving fishing boats supplying fishmeal for food and prawn giant CP Foods, which services US and UK retail giants Tesco, Walmart, Costco and others.
All companies named in the report pledged reforms in the industry, which remain ongoing.
The US State Department and Environmental Justice Foundation both released damning reports revealing continuing mistreatment of workers on fishing vessels and in seafood manufacturing.
The negative exposure has triggered a response from Thai government officials, who are considering plans to establish a new registry of illegal migrant workers and proposals to implement stricter labour regulations.
PACKED IN LIKE SARDINES: TOUGH CONDITIONS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS
THOUSANDS of migrant workers — including teenagers and alleged underage employees — are living and working in gruelling conditions packaging cheap tuna tins destined for Australian supermarket shelves.
Aung Au — one of an estimated 3000-plus migrant workers in the tuna can industry — said he was paid $398 per month, or $13 a day, working up to 11-hour shifts on a six-day roster.
The Burmese immigrant — who works for the Sea Value Group — confirmed to The Daily Telegraph teenagers under the age of 18 were employed at some factories.
Using a false name to protect his identity, Au has been in the canning business for three years.
He lives in his unemployed aunty’s run-down Bangkok room alongside five other people.
“I work six days and one off on Sunday,” he said.
Au — who works for the same parent company Sea Value Group that controls the factory linked to the Sydney cafe poison scare — described the process as imported frozen tuna arrived at the factory.
Workers can be suspended for three days or fired for bad behaviour if they are caught with mobile phones in work areas, which are closely monitored by dozens of CCTV cameras.
Migrant Worker Rights Network director Aung Kyaw said the Thai economy heavily relied on Burmese migrants working in the lower paid and less attractive industries including seafood, electronics, furniture and garment.
Mr Kyaw said safety and work standards remained poor.
While The Daily Telegraph sat in his office, an 18-year-old Burmese girl walked in missing her right hand after an accident at an electronics factory after only four months working there.
He confirmed many young Burmese were being forced into work at a younger age altering their ID cards with agents by paying a fee.
Mr Kyaw said some migrants could work 20 hour days in cramped conditions on fishing boats.
The migrant rights campaigner, who leads a team of 30, said migrant workers were seeking “equal rights” including compensation if they were injured on the job.
“Some companies are engaged in sub-contracting where they move workers from one place to the other. This is being done with agents who get commission fees,” Mr Kyaw said.
To suit the needs of the giant tuna factories, migrant workers live in cramped shanty homes which are walking distance to work.
In between shifts they head home for sleep leaving their gumboots at the front door.
At a makeshift “apartment block” in the middle of a fish market near Samut Sakhon, mothers look after their babies as dogs and cats roam the neighbourhood.
The Daily Telegraph witnessed a 10-year-old migrant cleaning squid in dirty water working alongside his family at the fish market which helps drive the Thai seafood industry.
The Thai Union Frozen Products Group told The Daily Telegraph its “people are our most valuable asset”.
“Every employee is treated equally whether Thai or foreign nationals. We focus on providing safe and healthy working environment ensuring the promotion of our employees’ well-being in all of our facilities,” she said.
The TUF spokeswoman said they strictly prohibited “employment of any illegal age”.
The Sea Value Group did not respond to questions sent by The Daily Telegraph about its work conditions, saying it would comment at a later date.
BIG TUNA: THE KINGPINS PLUNDERING PROFITS
AS their employees work hard to supply cheap tuna tins for Australian customers, the bosses of Thailand’s seafood empires continue to reap the rewards, including buying a UK soccer team.
At the top of the tuna fish power list is the Chansiri family, who run the $3.7 billion Thai Union Frozen products group.
The family, led by Kraisorn and his sons Thiraphong and Dejphon, was listed on Forbes’s Thailand richest 50 list with a fortune of $580 million.
Dejphon last month finalised the purchase of English soccer club Sheffield Wednesday, while his brother Thiraphong runs the seafood giant that operates famous brands including John West and Chicken of the Sea.
A spokeswoman said the reputation of his company was world class.
“TUF’s food safety, hygiene and processing standard is our utmost priority,” she said.
“We fully comply with world’s most stringent food standard requirements and are in full implementation of and adherence to HACCP, GMP systems and US FDA regulations.”
The company spokeswoman said TUF — which employs more than 11,000 employees — “regularly subjected to rigorous customers’ and third-party audit by international organisations”.
Dejphon — who was recently photographed at the Sheffield Wednesday football club as its new chairman — has pledged to return the team to the Premier League.
He paid more than £37.5 million ($73 million) for a 100 per cent stake in the prestigious club.
“We will do whatever is appropriate to invest in the club to get them to the Premier League.”
The Sea Value Group — which runs the ISA Value Co Ltd and Unicord — has also boomed under the leadership of Poj Aramwattananont, who served as Thai Frozen Foods Association president.