Many consumer companies are urging different governments to help the seafarers who are stuck on commercial vessels, even after the termination of their contracts with worsening work conditions.
Consumer companies such as Unilever Plc, Procter & Gamble Co., Carrefour SA, Mondelez International Inc. and Heineken NV have signed an open letter to allow crew changes at ports to help the overworked seafarers who are at sea for many months now.
The letter signed by these companies was sent to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres before a General Assembly web conference on Wednesday. This letter comes in response to address the humanitarian crisis at sea brought about by Coronavirus crisis as governments have imposed travel restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.
Marc Engel, Chief supply chain officer at Unilever said, “We are coming to a tipping point if we don’t resolve the issue of crew changes, there’s a huge risk that the global supply chain will start failing. It’s an inadvertent situation of forced labour because these seafarers are stuck on these ships. It’s a human rights issue.”
The CEOs of various giant consumer companies also the members of the Consumer Goods Forum came together to draw attention to the crisis at the sea. “This has led to a major disruption of global supply chains, which are vital to manufacturers and retailers and their ability to produce and offer essential consumer goods, including food and hygiene products,” the CEOs said in the letter to the United Nations.
The CEOs want the following measures to be implemented in order to ensure the supply of goods and safety of the seafarers:
- Introducing a robust test and trace regime to ensure the safety of seafarers and crew changes
- Limiting any unavoidable crew contract extensions to the next scheduled port where crew change is possible and/or diverting course to a port where crew changes can be arranged within the International Labour Organization’s guidelines
- Signatories communicating the request for the measures to their shippers, logistics providers and suppliers, and the Consumer Goods Forum will encourage all stakeholders to abide by labour principles
International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) legal director said that the issue with changing the crew members didn’t gain much attention and the conditions on the commercial vessels might worsen as the time passes without crew change.
Subasinghe said that public pressure from consumer goods companies is a real game-changer, “If these crew keep on working, we’re risking health and safety and a logjam in the supply chain, the folks who have boxes on these containers are now saying ships should be diverted to the next port to do crew changes. The message is clear, and there’s no question now about what should be done.”