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Shipping accused of being worse than Big Tobacco when it comes to human rights and sustainability

Shipping stands accused today of being worse than Big Tobacco when it comes to human rights and sustainability.

It is almost a decade since the United Nations adopted its principles on business and human rights, but a new report out this week suggests shipping continues to ignore the livelihoods of its most precious commodity, the men and women working at sea, with international shipping groups coming in for particular stick.

The 15-page briefing note from NGO Human Rights at Sea looks at what impact the UN guideline principles have had on the maritime industry.

Co-author David Hammond described shipping as having a “collective malaise” when it comes to the issue of human rights in daily shipping operations.

The report pointed out: “Because many human rights abuses happen out of sight and mind there is far less incentive to investigate allegations, while the complex web of national and international laws and regulations disincentivises drives for better legislation and effective enforcement, especially by those flag States with poor access to constabulary and judicial support, and who have come to rely upon lucrative commercial income from flag registrations, thereby potentially compromising national legal requirements to investigate and prosecute.”

Compounded by a current lack of collective unity and agreed policy from the top down on the subject matter, the briefing note argued that business and human rights, and in particular the human rights piece, remains “marginalized” and not taken seriously in the commercial context.

“The subject is left to be championed by individuals from a CSR perspective, though invariably it is because their professional role dictates as much, while often compounded in terms of difficulty to gain traction against a background of internal resistance to change,” the report states.

Nonetheless, the NGO suggested the UN’s guiding principles have great potential to improve human rights at sea by expanding responsibility for human rights at sea to commercial maritime companies and not just the default reliance on state intervention.

In a headline quote for the report, Hammond, who founded the NGO seven years ago, stated: “[T]here has been little concerted and collaborative effort by the shipping industry to embed the concept, develop unified policies, drive effective remedy and demonstrate public accountability in the field of business and human rights. This has been exacerbated by too much corporate social responsibility talk in the margins followed by too little action, in particular from leading membership bodies. This has left individual operators who are focused on delivering positive social change to make the necessary internal adjustments without over-arching policy direction, guidance and senior industry support. Meanwhile, civil society continues to show the leadership on the topic, but remains hindered by a lack of industry support for wider human rights protections and therefore, the subject continues to remain stymied reinforcing the collective industry ‘profit over people’ approach.”

Speaking with Splash today, Hammond said shipping was severely lagging other international businesses when it came to human rights.

“In short, virtually all other industry sectors are pushing hard to be voluntarily transparent and more accountable under the 2011 UN guiding principles structure, including the likes of the apparel, extractive, energy, building and aviation sectors,” Hammond said, adding: “It goes to the heart of the fact that the maritime industry simply cannot ignore fundamental human rights protections if they wish to survive in the long-term in an increasingly socially responsible and accountable supply chain with pressures on boards from shareholders and civil society to show a clean approach to business.”

Hammond concluded by telling Splash that shipping was even behind the tobacco industry in terms of human rights and sustainability.

“Remarkably, even the tobacco industry is better placed in terms of implementing the UN guiding principles and responding to the UN Sustainable Development Goals through their social responsibility initiatives and platforms, than the maritime industry is as a collective body,” Hammond said.

How the shipping industry views human rights from a commercial perspective is one of the questions posed in the latest MarPoll, our quarterly survey. Voting closes this week. To vote, click here.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. The elephant in the room is the fishing industry, which almost nobody talks about, and almost nobody investigates, because port state control has no power over it, but which seems, from when it does make the media, very much worse.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew Craig-Bennett’s comment.

    In my 30 years experience as a Flag & Port State Inspector, I have personal experience of several incidents of unsafe operations, inoperable or non-existent safety equipment, late/non-payment of wages, serious alcohol abuse by senior officers, and physical and sexual abuse of crew members, on fishing vessels.
    It is very much a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. This is an area of human rights which needs the utmost priority by the I.M.O. and Flag Administrations.
    In contrast, I find the headline of the article to be wildly erroneous. Whilst I have no doubt that abuses exist in our world-wide industry, the advent of Port State Control, and the MLC 2006, have greatly improved things. Having the power to say to a Master or DPA “You have not fulfilled your MLC obligations, and are thus clearly in breach of your commitments enshrined in your Safety Management System. I am prepared to detain this vessel pending a Class audit of every ship in the fleet”, produces amazingly rapid results!

  3. “It goes to the heart of the fact that the maritime industry simply cannot ignore fundamental human rights protections if they wish to survive in the long-term in an increasingly socially responsible and accountable supply chain with pressures on boards from shareholders and civil society to show a clean approach to business.”

    Completely incorrect, in the US most of our goods are made in Asia so till we source and manufacture back in North American lands again this will still happen. I am sure for other places are similar. Sure we could put them on planes but OMGosh then think of the carbon emissions.

    My opinion the answer is simple stop being cheap, sure things made in my country cost a bit more but I usually don’t have to worry about human rights abuses either.

  4. It very true and it’s being experienced by myself.peolpe in this sector of top management level are people who doesn’t even know the basics of human resources management and no ethics,welfare,contendedness

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