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UN issues checklist to protect stranded seafarers’ human rights

IMO/Flickr IMO_HQ_Seafarer.jpg
The United Nations (UN) has released a human rights checklist for businesses as it forecasts a surge in stranded seafarers.

The joint initiative between the UN Global Compact, the UN Human Rights Office, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) aims to assist businesses in upholding their responsibilities as new COVID variants and outbreaks threaten to cause further delays in crew change and repatriation.

The agencies said the number of crew stranded at sea beyond their contracts is currently around 200,000, but could return to the September 2020 highs of 400,000 as travel restrictions tighten again.

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 document calls on companies which use maritime supply chains to undertake reasonable due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and address adverse human rights impacts on seafarers due to travel and crew chance restrictions. Among the concerns raised by the UN agencies were reports of crew serving beyond the 11-month maximum limit under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), and charterers avoiding employing vessels where crew changes are due to occur. The introduction to the checklist singles out "no crew-change clauses" in charters as an example of undue pressure exerted on the maritime industry to lessen seafarers' rights. 

A joint statement from the UN agencies involved reminded businesses along the supply chain of their distinct responsibility to protect the human rights of seafarers, and that MLC outlines only minimum standards.

The tool itself is split into three parts, the first for cargo owners and charterers using maritime transport and addresses seafarers' rights and health and safety conditions during the pandemic. The second part contains additional actions for cargo owners using maritime transport, and the third part is directed at charterers with contractual relations with shipping companies. Each step includes actions to be taken, practical steps and further guidance. The checklist document includes contact details for relevant stakeholders and a case study where the principals were applied to the supply chain of a fashion retailer.  

IMO Secretary General, Kitack Lim, said: “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.”

ILO Director General, Guy Ryder, added: “As the ILO Committee of Experts said in its general observation last December, it is precisely at times of crisis that the protective coverage of the MLC, 2006, assumes its full significance and needs to be most scrupulously applied. This is even more so given that the Convention contains only minimum standards for the protection of seafarers’ rights. The ILO has urged Governments to ensure the protection of seafarers’ rights, and welcomes this initiative that will help businesses to play their part in this collective effort”.

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