UN leaders urge companies relying on shipping supply chains to undertake urgent measures to protect seafarers’ rights

May 07, 2021
The Human Rights Due Diligence Tool Front cover image
© The Human Rights Due Diligence Tool

A wide-ranging human rights checklist was issued yesterday to business enterprises engaged with the maritime industry to protect seafarers stranded on ships due to new COVID-19 variants and government-imposed travel restrictions, 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 for cargo owners and charterers has been issued amid concerns that the number of crew 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. UN agencies hope the new guidance will help ensure that the working conditions and human rights of seafarers are respected and comply with international standards.

The new guidance 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. Whilst recognising the importance of the maritime industry in transporting more than 80% of global trade goods, 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 UN agencies 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, preventing needed crew changeovers and adding further pressure on the maritime industry. UN agencies have reminded that 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.

The new human rights tool complements current industry-led collective action, such as the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing, which has been signed by more than 750 companies. The tool 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. 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.'

The International Transport Workers’ Federation, the International Chamber of Shipping, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, and the OECD actively contributed to the development of the tool. The tool is supported by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, the World Economic Forum, the Global Maritime Forum, the Ethical Trading Initiative, and The Consumer Goods Forum, who welcome this key initiative in addressing the COVID-19 crew change crisis.

The Human Rights Due Diligence Tool can be downloaded here.

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