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New initiative to protect seafarers’ rights and welfare launched by SSI

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Yesterday saw the launch of a landmark Code of Conduct and self-assessment tool developed to protect the human rights and welfare of the world’s nearly two million seafarers.

The initiative aims to support a safe, healthy and secure onboard work environment, and goes beyond the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) to focus on the full spectrum of seafarers’ rights and wellbeing, from fair terms of employment and minimum crewing levels to the management of grievance mechanisms.

The project has been led by the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) and the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), in collaboration with the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights and RightShip. Key SSI members played an active role in its development, with expert input from Forum for the Future, Louis Dreyfus Company, Oldendorff Carriers, South32, Standard Chartered Bank, Swire Shipping and Wilhelmsen Ship Management.

“A sustainable shipping industry needs to ensure the protection of its workforce. This presents a unique opportunity for the industry to work together and take concrete action for the rights of nearly 2 million seafarers worldwide, now and in the future” Kristina Kunigenas, Human Rights Lead at the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, said.

Based on international labour and human rights standards and principles, the Code of Conduct and self-assessment were created over eight months of consultation and collaboration with shipowners, operators, charterers, cargo owners, seafarers’ associations, civil society and others.

To enable immediate action across the industry, RightShip has launched an online self-assessment tool developed in collaboration with SSI and IHRB. This freely available questionnaire provides practical guidance on utilising the Code of Conduct, helping shipowners and operators understand their responsibilities while assessing current operations and ways of working, and consequently showing areas for improvement.

“The global pandemic brought seafarers rights firmly into focus, with many crews forced to endure exceptionally difficult conditions to keep global supply chains and trade freely flowing,” noted Frances House, Deputy Chief Executive at IHRB. “We expect a great deal from them and it’s only right that they expect an adequate standard of care, conditions, and quality from us. This is a proud, vital industry that depends on people to keep sailing. This Code of Conduct and self-assessment will help build a platform to respect worker dignity while advancing industry progress. We look forward to widespread engagement from industry stakeholders everywhere.”

Scott Jones, Director of Communications at Oldendorff Carriers said, “The shipping industry has been, and continues to be, very focused on reducing its carbon footprint. However, it is equally important that we focus on the human element to make sure that seafarers’ rights are respected and that we have a holistic view to make the industry truly sustainable. This Code of Conduct is an important new step in highlighting seafarers’ rights and giving the shipping industry a sustainable future.”

Simon Bennett, General Manager – Sustainable Development at Swire Shipping added, “Seafarers work long, hard hours, for many months away from their families and friends. They deserve to be treated with respect, and to receive the same rights that their shore-based colleagues experience as the norm, and then more, to take account of the non-standard working environment. Many of us had assumed that the ILO MLC (2006) would assure this. But sadly the Covid-19 pandemic showed that whilst much was said about the crucial nature of the job they were doing, little was practically delivered, and in fact in many places their treatment became markedly worse. We believe that this Code of Conduct details the areas required to be addressed to ensure that seafarers’ rights are observed, and exhort all shipowners to facilitate, provide them and support shippers and others with interests in our delivering a sustainable and humane shipping value chain and industry to assure themselves, using this assessment, that this is indeed the case.”

The Code of Conduct and associated documents can be downloaded here

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