How to respect the human rights of seafarers?

New ITF guidance shows companies how to respect the human rights of seafarers shipping cargo


With 90% of goods transported by sea, companies rely on seafarers to keep their supply chains moving. As human rights due diligence (HRDD) laws expand in scope and reach, many companies are falling behind on their responsibilities.

New HRDD guidance from the ITF, Respecting the human rights of seafarers in global supply chains, was launched at a forum with the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) bringing together global companies with a combined turnover of GBP£166 billion, international trade union bodies, labour rights organisations and non-governmental organisations.

“Gross human rights violations occur daily at sea, from unpaid or withheld wages, abandonment of vessels and seafarers required to work beyond contract – situations that may give rise to forced labour,” said Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary.

“In 2022, ITF inspectors recovered US$36.6 million in owed wages. Between 2020 and 2022, the ITF reported 262 cases of abandonment to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

“Respecting the human rights of seafarers is both a moral and legal obligation for brands. The ITF Human Rights Due Diligence Guidance (HRDD) sets out how brands and other cargo owners can fulfil their obligations to seafarers through effective human rights due diligence.

“All companies have responsibilities and, increasingly, legal obligations to carry out human rights due diligence along their supply chains,” said Cotton.

Drawing on international labour and human rights law, including sector-specific standards like the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, this guidance puts the spotlight on seafarers’ human rights.

The guidance is a follow up to the joint initiative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the ILO, which set out a plan for how companies could respond to the crew change crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The ITF stands alone in being able to offer a worker-centred analysis of human rights abuses at sea, measured against international laws and standards,” said Cotton.

“Working in cooperation with the ITF companies can collaborate on maritime HRDD, including developing and adopting risk mitigation processes, ongoing monitoring procedures and grievance mechanisms.

“We urge all companies who take the human and labour rights of workers in the maritime supply chain seriously to take the first step and contact the ITF today. We are ready to assist,” said Stephen Cotton.

The new guidance sets out four steps brands can take to cooperate with the ITF on HRDD:

  1. An introductory meeting to set out worker centred HRDD approaches in transport and logistics supply chains.
  2. A confidential ITF Rights Check to identify risks and human rights abuses of seafarers on ships carrying cargo.
  3. A dialogue with the ITF on risks and mitigation.
  4. An ITF cooperation agreement to work together to prevent and remedy human rights abuses.

Working with the ITF, companies can improve the human rights of seafarers in their global supply chains, develop and adopt risk mitigation processes, and put in place ongoing monitoring procedures and grievances measures.

This article is shared by courtesy of ITF Seafarers –

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