New Report on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles in the Maritime Sector

HRs at Sea coverThe Human Rights at Sea initiative has released a new report, An Introduction and Commentary to the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and their Implementation in the Maritime Environment. The report provides a simple introduction to the UN Guiding Principles (UN GPs), makes the business case for companies in the maritime sector to implement their responsibility to respect human rights and warns of the commercial, legal, reputational, and operational risks of not doing so, and provides some examples of human rights abuses associated with the maritime sector. The report also discusses the uptake of the UN GPs through the development of National Actions Plans, such as that of the UK government, and their incorporation into various soft law instruments.

All of these issues have been addressed in more depth in other publications. But as Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s Executive Director Phil Bloomer suggests in the foreword, what makes this report stand out is that it is the first effort to launch a more comprehensive discussion in the maritime sector about its human rights responsibilities and how to meet them. This discussion has been happening in bits and pieces and mostly in response to reports of severe abuses.

For example, the New York Time series, The Outlaw Ocean, drew attention to lawlessness on the high seas and in particular the impunity for gross human rights abuses such as the use of forced and slave labor in the fishing industry. In February, President Obama signed a law closing a loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act that allowed the importation of goods made with slave labor, to include seafood caught using forced labor in south-east Asia.

As noted in a previous blog, concerns about the use of private armed security personnel on board ships in response to piracy threats resulted in the development of an ISO standard (ISO 28007-1: 2015), which explicitly references the UN GPs in the introduction and requires that companies develop human rights policies. Maritime security providers certified to ISO 28007-1 will soon have the opportunity to solicit certification to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (ICoC) if they provide some additional information on their human rights due diligence efforts, as foreseen in the draft recognition statement released by the ICoC Association.

Recently Maersk Group released its 2015 Sustainability Report detailing how it had undertaken a human rights due diligence process based on the UN GPs for all the business activities of the Group, thereby becoming the first large shipping line to undertake such a process. Although, as pointed out in the Human Rights at Sea report, Maersk is still plagued by human rights issues, such as using ship breaking facilities in India with a record of labor rights abuses.

The maritime environment as defined in the report is complex and encompasses multiple business actors, including those designing and manufacturing ships, operating shipping, cruise, and fishing fleets, brokerage services, ship yards, dry-docks, port construction, freight-forwarding, insurance, seafarer recruitment, and maritime security services. Most businesses in the maritime sector have not begun to consider the significance of the UN GPs or recognized their responsibility to respect human rights in their own business activities and throughout their supply chains. Hopefully, the Human Rights at Sea report will contribute to furthering that discussion throughout the sector.

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