Write to your MP in support of our Fair Transport Mark

Support our Fair Transport Mark proposal to establish a marker of reputable shipping companies' commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Nautilus International's Fair Transport campaign tackles the problem of vessels with poor safety standards and squalid living conditions, and says too many seafarers live in fear of being abandoned without pay in ports far from home. These crews are part of the world fleet which transports 90% of our goods to market, yet they continue to suffer, with consumers oblivious to the conditions they endure.

The issues

Decades ago, the fair trade movement identified problems of exploitation in the developing-world farming sector, particularly when it came to producers growing high-value cash crops such as coffee beans and bananas for export to wealthier countries. Organisations like Fairtrade International have now made great strides in raising public awareness of exploited developing-world farm workers and establishing a better deal for producers.

These results have largely been achieved by encouraging big western brands to sign up to a scheme guaranteeing a minimum price for their producers – and in return, the brands can promote their ethical credentials and attract consumers through displaying the Fairtrade Mark, or other badges of good practice, on their products.

Unfortunately, none of these badges of good practice offers a guarantee to the consumer or the import/export industry that workers in the supply chain have not been exploited. Nautilus has revealed a number of cases in which fair trade cargoes have been carried on ships with atrocious living and working conditions – and we've come up with ideas on how to stop this happening in future.

What Nautilus is doing

Nautilus has developed its Fair Transport scheme – a proposal to make good shipping companies easily recognisable through a new Fair Transport Mark and to encourage the import/export industry to use these firms and shun the substandard operators.

As Nautilus members generally come from developed countries, and are mostly fortunate enough to work for reputable companies, they might ask why their Union should be the one to mount this particular campaign.

There are two main reasons. Firstly, Nautilus members benefit from any effort to rid the industry of substandard operators. Jobs are lost at reputable companies when business is awarded to 'low-cost' shipping companies who undercut their competitors by neglecting crew welfare. So the more import/export companies commit to using shipping firms validated by the Fair Transport Mark, the closer we will get to a level playing field for our members.

Secondly, as a trade union, Nautilus has a strong commitment to ethical practices and is proud to be part of an international workers' movement that fights for the less-fortunate. As the Nautilus mission statement says: 'We are an independent, campaigning and progressive organisation that speaks up for seafarers and protects maritime professionals.'

Nautilus sees the Fair Transport Mark as part of its wider moral obligations to the global seafaring and inland waterways community and is proud to be making this contribution.

How you can help

Write to your elected representatives to seek their support for the Nautilus Fair Transport Mark scheme.

Ask supermarkets and suppliers what steps they take to ensure their products are carried on quality shipping.

Let the Union know of any ideas you might have for taking this campaign further. 

About the Fair Transport Mark

The Fair Transport Mark proposal originally came about because Nautilus and its Swedish counterpart, the transport union SEKO, had both noticed that produce labelled as 'fair trade' was sometimes being carried on vessels which offered a decidedly unfair deal to their crews.

In particular, they recorded some shocking examples of fair trade sugar being carried on vessels that were detained by port state control for safety deficiencies and insanitary crew accommodation. This is the kind of practice that Fair Transport is seeking to end – but the proposal for the scheme goes further.

The Fair Transport Mark scheme would not be limited to vessels carrying fair trade produce; it would be a marker of reputability for any shipping company on the world's oceans, lakes, rivers and canals. In time, the Fair Transport Mark would become a key indicator of a company's commitment to corporate social responsibility.

The way the scheme would work would mirror the Fairtrade Foundation, which was founded by a consortium of charities to promote the ethical treatment of developing-world producers. In the case of Fair Transport, shipowners and maritime unions would come together to set up a foundation tasked with administering the Fair Transport scheme.

The foundation would award the Fair Transport Mark to shipping companies which adhered to the following internationally-recognised crew welfare standards:

  • they must use vessels flagged with countries that have ratified the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006
  • all their vessels must have national collective agreements for their crew, or, for flag-of-convenience vessels, agreements approved by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF)
  • none of their vessels can have been kept in detention by Port State Control or other national authority control due to poor sanitary or humanitarian standards.

These standards are well-understood within the industry. It is straightforward to check whether they have been met, so the foundation administering the Fair Transport scheme would not need to establish a verification process from scratch. 

What we've already achieved

Nautilus and SEKO have published a detailed Fair Transport proposal, which can be sent in hard copy to Nautilus members and other interested parties on request.

The proposal has been debated by the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Maritime Transport, a body of the European Union that includes shipowners' representatives and seafarers' trade unions. The European shipowners are represented by ECSA (European Community Shipowners' Associations) and the unions by the ETF (European Transport Workers' Federation). Both ECSA and ETF have engaged closely with Fair Transport – in a way which suggested that the issues in the proposal had really hit a nerve.

In addition, the welfare body Mission to Seafarers praised the proposal and pledged support for future action; and the UK Fairtrade Foundation expressed interest in the ideas, while making it clear that they had no intention of making seafarers' welfare part of their own audit arrangements for issuing licences for Fairtrade products and raw materials.

What's next?

Now that we have achieved the objective of drawing international attention to the poor treatment of many seafarers, the aim is to translate the interest and debate into action. The Nautilus general secretary and his counterpart at the Swedish transport union SEKO are therefore seeking partners to set up the proposed Fair Transport Mark scheme.

In a related development, ECSA and ETF have together agreed to approach Fairtrade International about the Fair Transport concept, seeking the inclusion of a 'shipping clause' in the audit procedures for Fairtrade products.

It is hoped that this body – which is more senior to the UK Fairtrade Foundation – will agree to change the licensing agreement for the Fairtrade Mark in all participating countries. This would mean that the logo can only be displayed if fair trade goods and produce have been carried on ships that comply with international conventions and guarantee decent pay and working conditions for seafarers.

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