Shipowners association sets out principles to combat harassment, bullying

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the global trade association for shipowners and operators, which represents over 80% of the world merchant fleet, on February 21 launched a set of industry principles for establishing effective measures to combat and eliminate harassment and bullying in the maritime sector.

The principles have been published against the backdrop of a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) – alongside Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and Gallup – on experiences of violence and harassment at work. The first of its kind global survey and analysis benefitted from insights of 74,364 respondents in employment across a range of sectors in 121 countries and territories. It found that one in five people (almost 23 per cent) in employment have experienced violence and harassment at work, whether physical, psychological or sexual.

Helio Vicente, ICS Director of Employment Affairs, said: “Although the data from the global ILO-LRF-Gallup report does not cover cases on board ships, the figures do point to a need for all industries and sectors to ensure that they do the utmost to prevent harassment and bullying. The maritime sector is no exception and must continue to take the issue very seriously. This includes having suitable policies and complementary measures in place to address it. The impact of violence and harassment, when experienced by seafarers on board is significant, since a ship is often a seafarer’s home for many months.”

ICS submitted the industry principles to shipping’s global UN regulators, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), ahead of a joint meeting between the two UN bodies, alongside governments, shipowners and unions, convened to address this issue in the maritime sector. The joint ILO/IMO Tripartite Working Group meeting to identify and address seafarers’ issues and the human element will take place from 27-29 February 2024.

Through its policy paper, ICS sets out five high level and eight detailed principles to successfully combat harassment and bullying. In establishing the principles, ICS drew inspiration from an array of policies and complementary initiatives, provided by shipping companies within its global network of shipowners and operators. 

Among the new suite of principles are the need for individual companies to clearly define and communicate what “harassment and bullying” means for them, including examples of behaviors that constitute these actions. The principles also emphasize the value of establishing clear and unambiguous company complaints management procedures that cover the shoreside and all shipboard departments (deck, engine and shipboard hotels, in the case of cruise ships); with a dedicated Complaints Manager assigned as investigator to each of these groups.

In a separate paper to be considered at the upcoming ILO/IMO meeting, ICS emphasizes that company policies and initiatives alone will not suffice to address the issue, adding that the maritime sector’s ability to successfully combat harassment and bullying also depends highly on the effectiveness of collaboration between governments, shipowners’ and seafarers’ representatives (unions), including to promote positive cultures on board.

Tim Springett, Chair of ICS Labor Affairs Committee, said: “While shipowners are responsible for implementing shipboard policies and complementary measures to eliminate harassment and bullying from ships, national governments and seafarers’ unions also have important roles to play. Unions can raise awareness and set expectations for their members, including appropriate deterrents, while all States should review their national civil and criminal codes to verify consistency with requirements of ILO’s Maritime Labor Convention and Violence and Harassment Convention, both of which apply to the maritime sector.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Daniel de la Hoz

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