An extensive human rights checklist for cargo owners and charterers was launched on Thursday amid concerns that the number of seafarers stranded working beyond their contracts at sea by Covid-19 restrictions could surge from the current level of 200,000, potentially returning to the peak of 400,000 seafarers at the height of the crew change crisis in September 2020.
Issued under a joint initiative by the UN Global Compact, the UN Human Rights Office, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Human Rights Due Diligence Tool aims to ensure that seafarers have their rights safeguarded in areas such as physical and mental health, access to family life and freedom of movement.
The UN agencies have expressed concern at reports of seafarers working beyond the 11-month maximum limit of service on board set out by the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
The mental and physical wellbeing of seafarers must be a priority
They have also expressed strong concern at reports that companies engaged in international trade are avoiding chartering vessels where a crew change is due, with some demanding ‘no crew change’ clauses in charter party agreements.
“Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), companies engaged with the maritime industry have a distinct responsibility to respect the human rights of seafarers as workers along their value chain,” UN agencies remind.
The new toolkit aims to provide guidance and a checklist for cargo owners, charterers and logistics providers to conduct human rights due diligence across their supply chains to identify, prevent, mitigate and address adverse human rights impacts for seafarers impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Sanda Ojiambo, executive director and CEO of the UN Global Compact, said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of global supply chains as seafarers continue to endure tremendous, and yet largely invisible, hardship and suffering. The maritime industry is responsible for transporting over 80% of global trade goods and so it must ensure it builds resilience to future shocks.
This tool is an important step in building awareness of how to address human rights abuses in the maritime sector
“The mental and physical wellbeing of seafarers must be a priority and this tool is an important step in building awareness of how to address human rights abuses in the maritime sector. It sends a powerful message of the importance of incorporating maritime workers in due diligence mapping to ensure that adverse human rights impacts are identified, prevented, mitigated and addressed.”
Kitack Lim, IMO secretary general, stated: “Seafarers are at the heart of the global supply chain. They are also at the mercy of Covid-19 restrictions on travel and transit. This has led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being denied repatriation, crew changes, shore leave and ultimately being forced to stay working on ships long beyond their contracts.
“It is incumbent on everyone involved with shipping, across the entire supply and logistics chain, to ensure seafarers rights are protected. This tool is an important step forward, providing a practical approach for cargo owners, charterers and logistic providers to consider the human rights of seafarers and ensure they are put first and foremost as they work to deliver the goods that people need and want.”
For far too long, shipping has been a human rights blind spot for global brands
The UN call has been welcomed by trade unions including the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
“For far too long, shipping has been a human rights blind spot for global brands. Responsible companies in today’s world want to understand how they or partners in their supply chains might be violating human rights. That’s why in the midst of the crew change crisis, the launch of this tool couldn’t be more timely,” said ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton.
Cotton said upholding human rights within supply chains is a social responsibility of companies, and was increasingly a legal requirement for them.
ITF is still being alerted to charterers and sub-charters using no crew change clauses and other more sophisticated means to avoid performing crew changes, said David Heindel, chair of the ITF Seafarers’ Section.
“Sadly, money is still getting in the way of human needs when it comes to shipping. Many shipowners’ revenues are at all-time highs, and cargo owners have barely noticed any change to their business as usual, despite 200,000 seafarers still trapped working aboard what amount to floating prisons, unable to get home.
“We want to see as many companies as possible taking concrete action, committing to use the due diligence tool, and helping to stamp out human rights abuses in their supply chains and the wider shipping industry. We’re standing by to help them do that,” said Heindel.