The Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and partners are calling for an end to recruitment fees, an illegal practice prohibited under the Maritime Labour Convention.
The results of a new study of seafarers launched this week finds that over two thirds (70%) of seafarers who have experienced violations of their workers’ rights say they were either charged recruitment fees - an illegal practice that can result in significant levels of debt leading to forced labour conditions - or were victims of fake job offers after making advance payments.
The Seafarers and Recruitment Fees research briefing, published by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), surveyed almost 5,000 seafarers between September 2022 and February 2023. The research shows that of those who experienced illegal charging of recruitment fees, the large majority (71%) did not report it, in most cases because they didn’t know where to report such abuses.
The survey was conducted by TURTLE and designed by TURTLE in conjunction with the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN).
Frances House, Senior Advisor at IHRB, said:
Frances House will be speaking about the issue of recruitment fees at a seminar (Wednesday 19th April) during One Ocean Week happening in Bergen, Norway, between 15th - 21st April.
Above: Testimony from seafarers whose identities have been protected
Mark Dickinson, General Secretary of seafarer union Nautilus International, said:
The Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) said:
To rid the industry of illegal recruitment fees and minimise the risk of forced labour among seafarers, the research findings point to important steps and recommendations:
- Shipping companies need to ensure that seafarers employed on board their ships have not been charged recruitment fees to secure their work contracts.
- Customers of shipping companies - including charterers, commodity companies and traders, and container cargo owners - must carry out human rights due diligence in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights across their value chains - this includes their shipping suppliers.
- As the payment of recruitment fees is prohibited under the Maritime Labour Convention, port state authorities must investigate any reports of the charging of recruitment fees.
- Home states (where recruitment agencies are based) must ensure that recruitment agencies do not charge fees for jobs, and importantly must enact and enforce penalties for such practices.
- Much greater awareness is needed of the illegality of the charging of recruitment fees, among seafarers, national authorities, ship operators and cargo owners.
- Effective mechanisms are needed to penalise offending agencies and for remedy for seafarers who have paid illegal recruitment fees, including possibly, reimbursement by employers of fees already paid.
- Seafarers need to know how and where to report such practices.
Further qualitative research on this issue will be forthcoming from Mission to Seafarers.
IHRB will be hosting a two-part panel on seafarers and recruitment fees on 14th June at the Global Forum on Responsible Recruitment.
Read the research briefing.