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Independent Research, Investigation and Advocacy for Maritime Human Rights



Q. Why the need for Human Rights At Sea (HRAS)?

Prior to the launch of the HRAS initiative on 3 April 2014 in London, if one was to have undertaken an internet search for the term ‘Human Rights at Sea’ one would have found no independent multi-stakeholder web platform combining pertinent issues arising from the failures of application of human rights at sea, the necessity for such protections for all seafarers and maritime workers, a source of information as to the availability or otherwise of effective international projects, reporting structures, assurances and remedies for abuses; an independent lobbying source, or a provider of commercially usable Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) tools relating to business and human rights outside those provided by the likes of the UN Global Compact.

At the time of writing, there has yet to be a comprehensive review of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (otherwise known as the “Protect, Respect and Remedy Framework” unanimously adopted by the UN in June 2011), in terms of an implementing framework, model guiding principles, Human rights Impact Assessments (HRIAs) and voluntary reporting and assurance methodologies specifically applicable to the maritime environment.

Further, the proposition that “Human rights apply at sea, as equally as they do on land” is one that the developers of HRAS believe should eventually become an accepted global concept, thereby further supporting established seafarering and fishing organisations and individuals.

HRAS therefore acts as an independent, international and voluntarily applied information source which delivers an advocacy and discussion platform, promotes international maritime human rights projects, develops the maritime interpretation of the UNGPs with international stakeholders and will, in due course, provide access to model documents for entities to voluntarily download and use in support of in-house CSR training, programmes and policies.

Q. What is the status of HRAS?

Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) is a Foundation Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) in England and Wales as a Registered Charity, Number 1161673 based in London. Oversight is provided by The Charity Commission. Governance is provided through the Trustees backed by a written CIO constitution and an iterative ten-year strategic plan. Legal, accounting and financial governance is provided by highly reputable entities, while HRAS undertakes its work through a secure online and multi-media platform.

Q. What is the HRAS Aim?

The HRAS initiative aim is to explicitly raise awareness, implementation and accountability of human rights provisions throughout the maritime environment, especially where they are currently absent, ignored or being abused.

Q. What is the HRAS Vision & Charitable Objectives?

The HRAS Vision is to become the leading independent maritime human rights platform.

The HRAS Charitable Objectives are:

To promote human rights (as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent United Nations conventions and declarations) for seafarers, fishermen and others involved in working at sea throughout the world by all or any of the following means:

  • Increasing global awareness of the explicit requirement for protection of, respect for and provision of effective remedies for human rights abuses at sea through international advocacy, the publishing of case studies and where applicable, the provision of teaching materials.
  • Contributing to the international development of effective, enforceable and accountable remedies for human rights abuses at sea.
  • Investigating and monitoring abuses of Human Rights at Sea.
  • Developing the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in the maritime environment.
  • Commenting on and supporting proposed national and international human rights legislation, policies and best practice, where applicable.

Q. How long will the initiative take to achieve its Aim and Vision?

At the outset of the HRAS initiative concept a timeline of 1-3 years was considered reasonable in order to achieve the proposed aim. However, it has become clear that in considering the breadth and depth of the proposed HRAS Vision in attempting to embed the HRAS concept into everyday consideration by the international community and maritime industry; it is conservatively estimated that this could take 10-15 years (2024-2029). As such, HRAS is now an iterative international project, with dedicated long-term commitment and an evolving scope that is reviewed year-on-year by the Trustees.

Q. Who is supporting HRAS and why?

In the first instance, ‘Supporting Entities’ listed on the home page are those entities which have overtly engaged in support of the HRAS Aim and who agree with the proposition that “Human rights apply at sea, as equally as they do on land“. These Supporting Entities are growing, though some do not have their logos shown on the home page due to individual state or commercial policy positions.

Q. Is anyone opposing HRAS?

At the time of writing there has been a mixed reaction across the maritime environment and industries towards the charity. It is assessed that this is based on the newness of the charity to sector, the unknown scale and scope of the perceived intent of the charity and the nervousness from some areas of maritime commerce and related stakeholders to the topic of human rights.

Q. What do you say to those entities and individuals that criticise the HRAS initiative?

Everyone is entitled to air his or her own opinions. Consequently, open discussion, criticism and debate is expected and indeed encouraged. HRAS is a voluntary resource, as well as being a vanguard maritime initiative. It does not claim to provide immediate comprehensive answers or solutions to issues concerning the promotion, education, protections or abuses of human rights at sea; rather it is an independent platform that primarily focuses on achieving the HRAS Aim and Vision. Expectations should therefore be duly managed. The response to entities and individuals who do criticise the HRAS initiative is simply to challenge them to publicly state that “Human rights do not apply at sea” and justify their position accordingly.

Q. What is the difference between a “Supporting Entity” and a “Collaborative Partner”?

Supporting Entities’ are those entities that have voluntarily agreed to support the over-arching concept of the HRAS initiative and associated platform as an independent resource covering maritime human rights issues for the benefit of the international community. Supporting Entities agree with the underlying HRAS proposition that “Human Rights apply at sea, as equally as they do on land”. Supporting Entities provide professional support and where agreed, financial donor assistance to the HRAS initiative on a case-by-case basis.

Collaborative Partners’ are those entities that have voluntarily agreed to be engaged in detail with HRAS projects, or where applicable, provide access to professional human rights support services in support of seafarers or fishermen. Collaborative Partners may be listed as a ‘Supporting Entity’, or in the alternative they may wish to restrict their involvement to a particular named project.

Q. Does not the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006 comprehensively cover the issue of human rights at sea and therefore make the HRAS work redundant?

We say ‘No’. It does not explicitly cover the topic. There are arguments advanced by some entities that the MLC provides the comprehensive answer for consideration of human rights at sea for seafarers, but it is submitted that this falls foul of a number of points.

1. The MLC is a new and some may say much needed labour rights’ Convention as delivered by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It is not, however, an explicit human rights’ Convention or related Convention and so, the application of human rights within the scope of the MLC can only be implied through an interpretive gateway within the Preamble text which states: “Mindful also that seafarers are covered by the provisions of other ILO instruments and have other rights which are established as fundamental rights and freedoms applicable to all persons,…

2. Nowhere in the MLC main text or commentaries is the issue of human rights, their protection by States, respect by businesses and access to remedies explicitly covered. Nowhere in the MLC, or the supporting commentaries, do the words “human rights” appear once.

3. If there was the intent to include human rights awareness and protections for seafarers within the MLC, there would have been no reason why explicit mention of the fact should not have occurred at least once within the Convention’s text.

These points lead to a position that the MLC fulfils its mandate for strengthening maritime labour rights, but does not explicitly cover human rights at sea and therefore does not itself provide access to specific remedies for named human rights abuses.

Q. Why should the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) be used in the maritime environment?

The UNGP were unanimously passed by the United Nations in June 2011 as a voluntary set of guiding principles on business and human rights. 193 countries and their UN representatives reflecting individual state policies on the subject surely cannot be wrong, despite the UNGP not being legislated as against and therefore being an example of soft law

In the absence of any other viable benchmark or applicable guidance, the UNGP is the best soft law reference that global industry has to refer to. This includes the maritime industry and workers in the maritime environment.

To date only one State, the United Kingdom (UK), has adopted the UNGP in September 2013 as part of the UK National Action Plan (NAP) for business and human rights and which requires development in the maritime domain for UK businesses. The German Federal Government Coalition Treaty agenda has also endorsed the concept and implementation of the UNGP in 2013.

Further, the recent European Parliament legislative resolution of 15 April 2014 on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Directives 78/660/EEC and 83/349/EEC as regards ‘Disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large companies and groups’ covering Amendments to Directive 2013/34/EU, has inserted new text concerning positive disclosure of non-financial information by large companies and groups (averaging 500 employees), including the “respect for human rights”;

“Article 19a
Non-financial statement

1. Large undertakings which are public-interest entities exceeding on their balance-sheet dates the criterion of average number of employees during the financial year of 500 shall include in the management report a non-financial statement containing information to the extent necessary for an understanding of the undertaking’s development, performance and position and of the impact of its activity, relating to, as a minimum, environmental, social and employee matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters, including:

(a) a brief description of the undertaking’s business model;

(b) a description of the policy pursued by the undertaking in relation to those matters, including due diligence processes implemented;

(c) the outcome of those policies;

(d) the principal risks related to those matters linked to the undertaking’s operations including, where relevant and proportionate, its business those areas, and how the undertaking manages those risks;

(e) non-financial key performance indicators relevant to the particular business.

Where the undertaking does not pursue policies in relation to one or more of those matters, the non-financial statement shall provide a clear and reasoned explanation for not doing so.”

Respect for human rights is the second pillar of the UNGPs.

Full EU Directive text here