Delivering on seafarers’ rights

Code of Conduct and self-assessment created for a safe, healthy and secure onboard work environment

By Frances House and Andrew Stephens

The pandemic and resulting crew change crisis thrust seafarers into the spotlight in 2020 and has led to in- creased public awareness of the harsh conditions seafarers may face. At the same time, we see growing demand from customers, investors, and others for transparent and sustainable supply chains that address human rights concerns throughout – including transportation and logistics.

A sustainable shipping industry needs to ensure the protection of its workforce. The Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI), the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB), the Rafto Foundation and RightShip have come together to launch a Code of Conduct and self-assessment questionnaire for shipowners, managers and operators that cover the full spectrum of seafarers’ rights and welfare.

The Delivering on seafarers’ rights project aims to support a safe, healthy and secure onboard work environment where all seafarers are aware of their rights and the grievance mechanisms available to them. The Code of Conduct and self-assessment tool include and go beyond the ILO Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), focusing on the full spectrum of seafarers’ rights and welfare and include topics such as fair terms of recruitment and employment, minimum crewing levels, and mental and physical health, among others.

Raising the bar

The work resulted in two tools: the Code of Conduct consisting of 52 clauses covering shipowner/operator commitments, fair terms of employment, crewing approach, crew wellbeing, crew protection, addressing seafarer grievances and implementing the Code of Conduct, and a self-assessment questionnaire, which provides further guidance for shipowners and operators on how to apply the Code of Conduct. It should be completed each year and show progress, ensuring that the bar is progressively raised for each company.

The tools will help shipowners, operators, charterers, and cargo owners be transparent about labour and human rights risks and provide a single document to be completed. At the same time, charterers, financial stakeholders and others can demand transparency and use this information in their decision-making, holding their partners to account and pushing for higher human rights standards as a condition of business.

The focus of the work has been to raise the bar at the company level by creating awareness and dialogue between charterers, cargo owners and investors, and the shipowners, managers and operators responsible for seafarers’ welfare on board.

However, awareness of these tools and mechanisms among seafarers is critical to ensuring that stakeholders are held accountable.

Clause 7.2. of the Code of Conduct reads as follows: “[The shipowner/ operator] communicates the requirements of this Code of Conduct to its workers, and to any other entity responsible for the operation of its ships and recruitment and placement of seafarers, and ensures that it has the legal mechanisms to require compliance by them with this Code of Conduct.”

The work done so far is only the beginning of the journey. Of course, a self-assessment is only as good as the company that fills it out, but the goal of these tools is to raise awareness, start a conversation between stakeholders and drive stronger accountability.

SSI and IHRB hosted a webinar in October which you can watch and read more about here: seafarers-rights-and-welfare-are-a-shared-responsibility/. One of the questions raised during the webinar was whether a tool will be available for seafarers to report against, providing additional information and perspectives beyond those provided by the companies’ self-assessments.

As we move ahead with this work, we want to hear more from you. If you have ideas or suggestions to further improve and ensure that the Code of Conduct has the intended impact of raising the bar for seafarers worldwide, please let us know by contacting:

You can read more and download the Code of Conduct and self- assessment questionnaire for free here:

Frances House is deputy chief executive at the Institute for Human Rights and Business and Andrew Stephens is executive director at the Sustainable Shipping Initiative.