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Ensuring the international tuna trade operates fairly

A world-leading expert on commodity chains in the international fish trade, Dr Liam Campling’s research has focused on the global connections that construct, exploit and sustain the socially and ecologically fraught foundations of the multi-billion dollar tuna industry.

His research examines the role of multinational firms in fishing for tropical tuna; the hierarchy in the international state system in shaping the fisheries trade and policies relating to access to fish; and the strategies available to developing countries to ensure that they benefit socially and economically from this industry in a way that it is environmentally sustainable and fair.

Campling’s work has involved an on-going collaboration with development agencies, trade unions and NGOs to influence trade policy, regulation and legislation to support developing countries. This work has improved labour conditions in tuna processing facilities in Papua New Guinea and also influenced public debate and understanding of the fisheries industry.

Influencing trade policy, regulation and legislation

Campling’s research was central to the Pacific Islands negotiating a new ‘Rule of Origin’ with the EU in 2007, which allows these developing countries to export canned tuna to the EU duty-free without having to use fish caught by EU boats. The restrictiveness of the old Rule was a source of controversy for the African, Caribbean and Pacific states since 1976.

The European Parliament estimated that new investment stemming from the reformed Rule will see Papua New Guinea’s local benefits from tuna processing grow from US$21m in 2012 to $70m by 2018 and employment increase from 5,770 (mostly local women) to 20,000.

Influencing public understanding of fisheries industry

Campling’s research and advice also underpinned a successful Greenpeace campaign in 2010 that resulted in a complete overhaul of UK canned tuna brands and supermarkets’ tuna sourcing policies, described by the environmental journalist Martin Hickman as “one of the most successful environmental campaigns in years”. The former head of Greenpeace UK Oceans Campaign, now CEO Greenpeace Australia, said: “Campling’s work was absolutely crucial in assisting Greenpeace in understanding the nature of the global tuna trade.”

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