A powerful alliance of United Nations organisations have called on businesses across the world to help solve the growing crisis for the world’s seafarers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen vessel crews stranded on board ships with ports across the world unwilling to allow them, to leave the ships and return to their homes.
In all, some 400,000 people are currently stranded on vessels, and a similar number are prevented from returning to ships, either to earn their living or to return home, due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and transit.
In a powerful joint statement 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, have branded the crews as “collateral victims” of COVID-19 related measures imposed by governments.
As such they have called o businesses to put pressure on governments to break the deadlock and enable crews to return home or to their vessels.
“The OHCHR, the UN Global Compact and the UN Working Group on Business Rights recognise and welcome the efforts that some companies have already undertaken to address the unparalleled challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to maritime workers globally, and appeal to other business enterprises to do the same,” it said. “The UN Guiding Principles provide the blueprint for the much-needed, urgent engagement from the world’s business community.”
Measures such as travel bans, embarkation and disembarkation restrictions or suspension in the issuance of travel documents have severely strained the working conditions in the global shipping sector, it warned. As a result, seafarers are either unable to board ships or are trapped on board, extending their contracts beyond their original tours of duty – and often beyond the 11 months maximum period on board, according to international labour standards.
Similar conditions can be also found in those working in the fishing industry and on off-shore platforms, the three entities added.
“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,” they said.
“It also increases dramatically the risks of security and environmental hazards.”
In the statement, the three entities also drew attention to the fact that the responsibility to respect 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 per cent of world trade.
“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,” it added.