11 OCT 2020 

Saying that seafarers have become collateral victims of the measures to curb COVID-19, the United Nation’s human rights organizations added their voice to the many organizations calling for more actions. Highlighting an “unparalleled crisis” affecting hundreds of thousands of crew members and maritime workers, the UN organizations called on the business sector and others involved in the shipping industry to do more to address the plight of seafarers worldwide.

Citing the 400,000 people currently stranded on vessels, and a similar number prevented from returning to ships to earn their living, due to COVID-19 related measures imposed by governments, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Global Compact, and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, issued a joint statement. They added that similar conditions can also be found for those working in the fishing industry and on offshore platforms.

“This situation has severe impacts over the basic human rights of seafarers and other marine personnel, including the right to physical and mental health, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to family life,” the three organizations said in the statement. “It also increases dramatically the risks of security and environmental hazards.”

The Human Rights organizations of the UN joined the calls that have been voiced by a broad coalition from across the shipping industry along with the IMO, unions, and other organizations. Using World Maritime Day as the backdrop, the UN Global Compact, the International Maritime Organization, and the International Labour Organization, in collaboration with the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, held a virtual meeting also designed to highlight the ongoing challenges for seafarers and to renew pressure on countries around the world to act.

In their statement, the three UN entities also drew attention to the fact that the responsibility to respect the human rights of seafarers is not only limited to the shipping sector. “In line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the responsibility extends to the thousands of business enterprises that use the services of maritime freight transport – which accounts for almost 90 percent of world trade,” the three human rights organizations said.

“Business enterprises of all sectors, especially multinational firms and global brands, as well as financial institutions with links to the sector, should assess and act upon the human rights situation of seafarers in the context of COVID, no matter which place they occupy in the value chain.”

OHCHR, UN Global Compact, and the UN Working Group urged steps such as conducting human rights due diligence to identify the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and governments’ response to COVID on the human rights of seafarers and other marine personnel across their value chain and actively using their leverage to mitigate these impacts to the greatest extent possible.

They also urged meaningful dialogue and consultation with seafarers and other worker’s organizations, trade unions, civil society, and other stakeholders in the design of relevant measures and actions.


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