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Seafarers UN photo
© UN Photo/Rick Bajornas/UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN calls for action from the global business community to help end the humanitarian crisis of seafarers

The UN Human Rights Office and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, have joined the United Nations Global Compact in calling for businesses across the value chain to act and assess the human rights situation facing seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight hundred thousand seafarers are currently either stranded on vessels or prevented from returning to ships due to COVID-19 restrictions on travel and transit.

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all business enterprises should respect human rights throughout their operations, including during the transfer of goods in their supply chains. With many seafarers stuck onboard ships well beyond the 11 months maximum mandated by international labour standards, security and environmental hazards risk increasing.

In a joint statement, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact and Anita Ramasastry, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, call upon all relevant business enterprises to:

  • Conduct human rights due diligence to identify the impacts of the pandemic and governments’ response to COVID-19 on the human rights of seafarers and other marine personnel across value chains and actively use their leverage to mitigate these impacts to the greatest extent possible;
  • Communicate this expectation to business partners and suppliers and exercise their leverage in this regard;
  • Urge governments to implement protocols and measures developed by UN agencies to enable safe crew changes;
  • Join forces with industry associations and unions to exert collective leverage and engage in meaningful dialogue and consultation in their spheres of influence.

Various shipping, non-shipping and seafood companies have called for urgent action, regarding the situation around seafarers. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, also reiterated seafarers’ essential role in the “often invisible global logistics chain”. He repeated calls to governments, alongside leaders from business, the UN, and unions, to deem them “key workers” and facilitate their transfer.

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