Princes Tuna Mauritius has been SA8000-certified since 2003. Over their 16 years of certification, Princes Tuna have witnessed the benefits that being a socially responsible company has on people and business. SAI interviewed a company representative to learn more about its journey with the SA8000 Standard, its workers and their ‘hand-made’ product.
The following interview was conducted in 2013, but we are proud to say that Princes Tuna is still SA8000-certified and reaping the benefits in 2019.
SAI: Tell us a little bit about Princes Tuna Mauritius.
Princes Tuna Mauritius (PTM): Princes Tuna came into being in 1999, after Princes bought an existing tuna cannery, which had been built in a converted railway station. In 2000, we built a new cannery facility, which employs 2,054 workers, producing around 800,000 cans of tuna every day. We are an export-based cannery, shipping about 70% of our produce to the UK, and 30% elsewhere in Europe.
Tuna canning is a very labor-intensive process. It is important to remember, when you enter the supermarket and buy a can of tuna that it is a hand-made product. That tuna has been washed, cleaned, cut, and canned, by people.
We have been SA8000 certified since 2003, and, in addition completed our first second-party social audit in 2010, fulfilling three more second-party social audits since then.
SAI: What are some of the benefits that you’ve seen from becoming SA8000 certified
PTM: There have also been numerous practical benefits of having a socially responsible system in place. Due to our procedures, we have the lowest absenteeism rate in Mauritius; on average, absenteeism in other industries averages up to 30%; we have less than 6%. The secret is to give people a reason to want to go to work. We implemented company surveys to ask employees what were their main reasons for working at Princes Tuna. The most frequent reason was: “Princes Tuna is a safe place to work.” Pay only came eighth on the list. People were proud to work for Princes Tuna.
SAI: As an SA8000-certified facility, what are some areas that might be challenging to achieve compliance?
PTM: A challenging part of the standard is its requirements regarding work hours. As a facility with a large segment of expatriate workers, you’re attracting the people that want to work more than 60 hours. Many workers request more overtime, and specifically want to work more than 75, 80 hours a week, and we have to explain to them why we cannot simply have unlimited overtime.
Illiteracy can also be an issue. A lot of our workers are illiterate; they don’t know how to use bank accounts, so we make sure to open bank accounts automatically for all our workers. Unions also often come and give training sessions at the factory, in all sorts of areas, from lifestyle training to awareness of HIV.
SAI: Where does most of your workforce come from?
PTM: Around 1/3 of our workforce, approximately 700 workers, is expatriate, coming mostly from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. Mauritius has always tried to portray itself as a good place to do business, and fortunately has very strict regulations for guest workers. Princes Tuna offers free transportation, food allowances, a subsidized canteen, medical facilities with free treatment and 50% discount for prescription charges.
Over 18 languages are spoken in the cannery, and we have a Welfare Officer who speaks many different dialects, and ensure that key documents are printed in Hindi, as it is the most common language that is spoken.
SAI: Can you explain your recruitment process?
PTM: We put a lot of attention into our recruitment processes. We have two agents that do recruitment; both of these are screened. Workers are given extensive orientation in their countries of origin. They are aware before they come of where they will stay and live, and are shown pictures and videos. Furthermore, potential expatriate workers have to sign their contract before they get a work permit. Once they receive their permits, they are taken to the dormitory and receive an advance payment. In the first week they have a medical screening and receive both a dormitory and factory induction training. After one week, they will join the factory team for the first time and start work.
SAI: What are the difficulties of social compliance in the tuna industry?
PTM: Firstly, it is important to remember that canned tuna is a commodity product. Especially in Europe and in the UK, it’s very much a price-dominated product. Since it’s a price-driven commodity – we will have to absorb the costs; you will never get a premium for being socially accountable when you’re making a commodity product. So, the greatest challenge that the industry faces is how to make an ethical product the norm.
SAI: What are your thoughts on social compliance?
PTM: Over the last 10 years, where we have not only sustained SA8000 certification but have continually improved our social performance, we can demonstrate that social accountability can apply to all sectors and all products and does not have to be “sold at a premium.”