The maritime industry is responsible for transporting more than 80% of global trade of goods, such as automobiles, bulk commodities, chemicals, wood products, iron and steel, garments and shoes, and consumer goods, toys, electrical appliances, oil and gas, pharmaceutical products and food.
COVID-19 related measures imposed by Governments, including 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, resulting in a humanitarian and safety crisis.
Hundreds of thousands of seafarers are trapped on ships as routine crew changes cannot be carried out, while hundreds of thousands are stranded on land, prevented from re-joining ships.
Those stranded on ships are being denied their human rights, including their rights to physical and mental health, to family life, and to freedom of movement, and are often forced to work beyond the default 11-month maximum period of service on board, as established by International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006). This is resulting in cases that could amount to forced labour.
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.
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), while governments have the duty to protect the human rights of seafarers, businesses have a distinct responsibility to respect their rights.
Given the scale of the maritime industry and its facilitation of world trade, multinational and national enterprises of all sizes are likely to be linked to the situation of seafarers through their operations, logistics, and broader value chains.