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HRAS: Lack of Action on Business and Human Rights Principles

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By The Maritime Executive 03-08-2020 05:51:06

Human Rights at Sea has issued a report on the effective incorporation of business and human rights practices throughout the shipping industry.

Based on seven years of ongoing monitoring of efforts to respond to the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the report Are the 2011 UN Guiding Principles Working Effectively and being Rigorously Applied in the Maritime Industry? highlights a general lack of action. In short, the answer is “No.”

The report acknowledges individual company efforts, but the few good examples do not yet represent a majority response.

“Over the last seven years there has been little concerted and collaborative effort by the shipping industry to embed the concept, develop unified policies, drive effective remedy and demonstrate public accountability in the field of business and human rights,” said David Hammond, CEO, Human Rights at Sea. “This has been exacerbated by too much corporate social responsibility talk in the margins followed by too little action, in particular from leading membership bodies. This has left individual operators who are focused on delivering positive social change to make the necessary internal adjustments without over-arching policy direction, guidance and senior industry support. 

“Meanwhile, civil society continues to show the leadership on the topic but remains hindered by a lack of industry support for wider human rights protections and therefore, the subject continues to remain stymied reinforcing the collective industry ‘profit over people’ approach.”

The Guiding Principles are built around corporate and State roles. The report notes that because many human rights abuses happen out of sight and mind there is far less incentive to investigate allegations. Added to that, the complex web of national and international laws and regulations disincentivizes drives for better legislation and effective enforcement, especially by those flag States with poor access to constabulary and judicial support.

Compounded by a current lack of collective unity and agreed policy from the top down on the subject matter, business and human rights, and in particular the human rights piece, remains marginalized and not taken seriously in the commercial context, states the report. 

Nonetheless, the Guiding Principles have great potential to improve human rights at sea by expanding responsibility for human rights at sea to commercial maritime companies and not just the default reliance on State intervention. At the same time, States must recognize that much more needs to be done at a regulatory and enforcement level to protect human rights at sea. For commercial maritime companies to be able to fully respect human rights, States must make sure, at the very minimum, national legal frameworks and supporting legislation is available and robustly enforced.

The report is available here.