The Human Rights Due Diligence Tool is a joint initiative of the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The Due Diligence Tool for cargo owners and charterers has been issued amid concerns that the number of crew stranded at sea by COVID-19 restrictions could surge from the current level of 200,000, potentially returning to the peak of 400,000 seafarers at the height of the crew change crisis in September 2020.
UN agencies hope the new guidance will help ensure that the working conditions and human rights of seafarers are respected and comply with international standards.
"Seafarers are at the heart of the global supply chain. They are also at the mercy of COVID-19 restrictions on travel and transit. This has led to hundreds of thousands of seafarers being denied repatriation, crew changes, shore leave and ultimately being forced to stay working on ships long beyond their contracts. It is incumbent on everyone involved with shipping, across the entire supply and logistics chain, to ensure seafarers rights are protected. This tool is an important step forward, providing a practical approach for cargo owners, charterers and logistic providers to consider the human rights of seafarers and ensure they are put first and foremost as they work to deliver the goods that people need and want," IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim in a press release on Thursday.
The new guidance aims to ensure that seafarers have their rights safeguarded in areas such as physical and mental health, access to family life and freedom of movement.
Whilst recognizing the importance of the maritime industry in transporting more than 80% of global trade goods, UN agencies have expressed concern at reports of seafarers working beyond the 11-month maximum period of service on board set out by the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).
The UN agencies have also expressed strong concern at reports that companies engaged in international trade are avoiding chartering vessels where a crew change is due, with some demanding "no crew change" clauses in charter party agreements, preventing needed crew changeovers and adding further pressure on the maritime industry.
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), companies engaged with the maritime industry have a distinct responsibility to respect the human rights of seafarers as workers along their value chain.
The tool provides guidance and a checklist for cargo owners, charterers and logistic providers to conduct human rights due diligence across their supply chains to identify, prevent, mitigate and address adverse human rights impacts for seafarers impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
"The COVID-19 seafarer’s crew change crisis has put the spot on one the weakest links in global supply chains. This is an urgent and grave humanitarian and human rights crisis that is impacting the lives of thousands of maritime workers. All companies involved in global supply chains may be linked to this crisis. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights require that companies identify whether they are involved with the crisis, including through their business relationships, and take any necessary measure to seek to address the situation," Michele Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.