Human Rights Day: Free and Equal

Credit: Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Credit: Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Published Dec 9, 2019 4:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10, the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world.

Article 1 states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Coinciding with the day, Greenpeace Southeast Asia has released a report in which 13 foreign distant water fishing vessels have been accused of forced labor and other human rights abuses against migrant fishers from Southeast Asia. “Seabound: The Journey to Modern Slavery on the High Seas” presents a snapshot of the living and working conditions of migrant fishers - mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines - who end up working onboard foreign owned distant water fleets.  

Four main complaints were identified: deception involving 11 foreign fishing vessels; withholding of wages involving nine foreign fishing vessels; excessive overtime involving eight foreign fishing vessels; physical and sexual abuse involving seven foreign fishing vessels.

The report also reveals a system of recruitment that traps many Indonesian migrant fishers in conditions of forced labor. One Indonesian migrant fisher onboard Taiwan owned fishing vessel Chin Chun 12 claimed to have not received any salary for the first six months; while another Indonesian migrant fisher onboard Taiwan fishing vessel Lien Yi Hsing 12 reportedly received only $50 in the first four months.

According to the Taiwan Fisheries Agency, as of June 2019, some 21,994 migrant fishers from Indonesia and 7,730 from the Philippines are reportedly working on Taiwanese distant water fishing vessels. These two countries combined represent the majority of migrant fishers on Taiwan’s distant water fleets – a $2 billion industry and one of the top five distant water fishing fleets on the high seas.

The report is available here.

Taiwanese Power Imbalance

Human Rights at Sea has released a new case study on the working conditions for fishers in the Taiwanese fishing industry. It highlighting the power imbalance between migrant fishers, vessel owner, and the recruitment and manning agencies resulting in inappropriate arbitrary termination of the work contract by employer and the denial of workers’ rights for sick leave. The case study also highlights the need to align national polices and standards with international convention.

Taiwan is in the process of adopting the ILO C188 Work in Fishing Convention with the associated safety, labor and social welfare standards. Yet, evidence continues to be made available that recruitment and manning agency actions are often sub-standard.

The new report “Labour Disputes Reveal a Worrying Power Imbalance and Vulnerability of Migrant Fishermen in Taiwan’s Fishing Industry” highlights ongoing incidents which demonstrate gaps in fair management practices for the protection of fishers. It compares the study material with established ILO 188 standards, as well as standards within Taiwanese domestic law for the protection of workers.

The report is available here.

Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea

Also on World Human Rights Day 2019, from within the shipping industry, a merchant crew of 11 seafarers in eight languages show their solidarity and support in a video message to Human Rights at Sea and its work developing the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea, the online platform which is formally launched today.

“I am a sailor, and I stand up for human rights at sea,” was the message.

Blood Phosphate

New Zealand's Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU), representing port workers at Lyttelton port, handed a letter of protest to the captain of a ship carrying “Blood Phosphate” mined in the Western Sahara. The Federal Crimson arrived at the port just before midnight on December 8. She was chartered by agrochemical company Ravensdown and is carrying 50,000 tons of phosphate. She was also met by a peace flotilla of 15 kayaks, a yacht, and a ferry filled with more than 100 school children. A further 80 human rights activists sang Sahrawi songs of freedom from land, reports Stuff. 

Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since 1975. Over 173,000 Sahrawis have been living in refugee camps in Algeria for the past 43 years. In April, Amnesty International reported continued human rights violations in Western Sahara, including arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, particularly of people supporting self-determination for Western Sahara. The indigenous Sahrawi people accuse New Zealand fertilizer companies of helping to support their oppression.