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ITF: How companies can respect the human rights of seafarers

ITF: How companies can respect the human rights of seafarers
The Editorial Team August 1, 2023

According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), as human rights due diligence (HRDD) laws expand in scope and reach, many companies are falling behind on their responsibilities. As a result, the Federation has issued a guidance to show companies how to respect the human rights of seafarers shipping cargo.

Particularly, the HRDD guidance from the ITF, Respecting the human rights of seafarers in global supply chains, was launched at a forum with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) bringing together global companies with a combined turnover of GBP£166 billion, international trade union bodies, labour rights organisations and non-governmental organisations.

Gross human rights violations occur daily at sea, from unpaid or withheld wages, abandonment of vessels and seafarers required to work beyond contract – situations that may give rise to forced labour… said Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary.

Seafarer rights’ risks

Scale – The extreme risks and grave dangers particular to the isolated maritime environment, vulnerability of seafarers, and severity of the kinds of actual and potential human rights impacts, such as forced labour.
Scope – There are 1.9 million seafarers moving global trade and 90 percent of goods move by sea. New crews are dispatched to ships in swift succession, and any unresolved issues may impact many seafarers for months or even years.
Potential to remedy – Failures to ensure a healthy and safe maritime workplace may result in fatal accidents and even environmental disasters, which cannot be effectively undone or put right.
Likelihood of human rights abuses – ITF data based on inspectorate reports of vessels show regional and sectoral risk patterns in global supply chains, regarding seafarer rights.

In 2022, ITF inspectors recovered US$36.6 million in owed wages. Between 2020 and 2022, the ITF reported 262 cases of abandonment to the International Labour Organization (ILO). … added Stephen Cotton.

Drawing on international labour and human rights law, including sector-specific standards like the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, this guidance puts the spotlight on seafarers’ human rights.

The new guidance sets out four steps brands can take to cooperate with the ITF on HRDD:

An introductory meeting to set out worker centred HRDD approaches in transport and logistics supply chains.
A confidential ITF Rights Check to identify risks and human rights abuses of seafarers on ships carrying cargo.
A dialogue with the ITF on risks and mitigation.
An ITF cooperation agreement to work together to prevent and remedy human rights abuses.