The United Nations (UN) has launched its Human Rights Due Diligence Tool – a checklist designed to help maritime sector businesses uphold their responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights during the Covid-19 crew change crisis.

The pandemic means that hundreds of thousands of seafarers remain trapped on ships as routine crew changes cannot be carried out, with more stranded ashore prevented from re-joining ships. Those stranded on ships are being denied their human rights, with cases arising that are tantamount to forced labour.  

Rights violations include those to physical and mental health, to family life, and to freedom of movement, with many often forced to work beyond the default 11-month maximum period of service on board, as established by the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC, 2006). The UN General Assembly, the secretary general and UN agencies have called on governments to designate seafarers as “key workers” and to honour their commitment to seafarers, especially as it relates to medical care, length of service and repatriation.  

The Human Rights Due Diligence Tool should enable cargo owners and charterers to expand on industry-led initiatives such as the Neptune Declaration, which saw more than 800 companies direct their business and cargo shipments to carriers that are proactively taking steps to protect their seafarers.  

The UN Global Compact has made the tool available online here.   

Reed Smith admiralty manager Voirrey Blount, who is also an ex-seafarer, said: “The tool seeks to encapsulate the best practices for businesses who wish to ensure they are acting responsibly and are recognising their human rights responsibilities to seafarers. Some practices, such as ‘no crew change clauses’, are viewed by the initiative as irresponsible practices that jeopardise seafarers’ rights – something both owners and charters should consider when seeking to maintain responsible business practices that the consumer often demands.   

“It can be hoped that the due diligence of owners, charterers and cargo interests with regards to seafarers rights will continue even after the Covid-19 crisis in the form of things such as global initiatives like the Neptune Declaration, which is a global call to action addressing the crew change issue. Fatigued crew who have over run on their contract are not only a risk to themselves but also to the ship and the cargo on board due to decreased abilities to concentrate, concerns about family at home, and sheer exhaustion – it is in the interest of all parties to continue to work to prevent human rights violations at sea.”