Since 2006, seafarers have been guaranteed the right to decent work conditions, accommodation, food and medical care, amongst other standards, under the Maritime Labour Convention. However, working in isolated conditions, away from friends, family and support networks, and dependent on their employers to provide any means of communication with the outside world, seafarers can be vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
These welfare abuses can take the unacceptable forms, of overwork, lack of contact with the outside world, and abandonment – being left without contact with the shipowner, including no money, food or transportation home – to the very serious and growing concern of modern slavery.
In an industry where costs are highly constrained and shipowners and charterers often outsource the crewing, operation and day-to-day management of vessels to third parties, there is potential for even reputable companies to get caught up in human trafficking and exploitation in countries where the reality of slavery seems long in the past. Just last year an offshore oil supply vessel operating in Scotland was found to be crewed by 15 unpaid Indian seamen.
The often hidden nature of both the wider shipping industry and particularly its workforce exposes the people at the heart of global trade as well as the companies that drive it to significant risks.