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 is working to address this through establishing Fair Transport; a scheme 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 which 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 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.
Pictured: Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson visiting Tate & Lyle, a major UK importer of fair trade sugar, to discuss conditions on the company's vessels
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:
These standards are well-understood within the industry, and 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.
Nautilus and SEKO have published a detailed Fair Transport proposal, which is available on this site and can be sent in hard copy to Nautilus members and other interested parties on request.
During 2013, the proposal was received with interest and debated by the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Maritime Transport, a body of the European Union which 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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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, so 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.
Nautilus and SEKO would greatly welcome input from members and potential partner organisations interested in helping to set up the foundation which will administer the Fair Transport scheme and award the Fair Transport Mark. Please have a look at the Fair Transport Mark proposal and then contact the Nautilus general secretary to discuss your ideas.