Large companies in action to get seafarers home
Major international companies such as Unilever, Heineken and Procter & Gamble are taking action to encourage governments to help the tens of thousands of seafarers who are currently trapped on merchant ships because of the coronavirus. They have signed an open letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 seafarers are trapped on ships around the world because they cannot be relieved because of the measures taken to combat the pandemic, with the risk of deteriorating working conditions and also forced labour. The companies, including Carrefour and Mondelez, believe that more needs to be done to help these crew members, because their welfare is at risk as they have been forced to stay at sea for months.
‘We are now at a tipping point if we do not do something about relieving sailors,’ writes Unilever’s top executive Marc Engel, responsible for distribution at the group. ‘There is a huge risk that the global distribution chain will collapse. It is actually a situation of forced labour because those seafarers are trapped on ships. This makes it a human rights issue,’ says Engel.
The companies believe that more should be done to test crew members for corona to ensure safety. In addition, agreements should be made to ensure that seafarers can be replaced, for example by diverting shipping lanes to ports where redeployment can take place safely. Working conditions, such as overtime pay, must also be respected.