Investor letter to UN calls for action on ‘humanitarian crisis at sea’

85 investors representing $2trn in assets have written an open letter to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres

A group of 85 investors representing more than $2trn in assets have written an open letter to UN secretary-general António Guterres calling for an urgent address of an “unfolding humanitarian crisis at sea”.

Led by Fidelity International in consultation with key marine organisations such as the International Labor Organisation and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and signed by asset managers including Lombard Odier Investment Management and MFS Investment Management, the letter sets out its signatories’ concerns and calls for five measures to be put into place.

“It is clear for some time now that a significant humanitarian crisis is underway at sea, with strict national movement restrictions impacting the ability of existing crews aboard commercial vessels to disembark and replacement crews to take their place,” it read.

Signatories say due to Covid-19, more than 400,000 seafarers are stranded at sea, many have been working for up to 17 months, much longer than the industry norm and the regulatory limit of 11 months. A further 400,000 seafarers remain ashore waiting to relieve them, often with little or no pay. The International Chamber of Shipping has estimated the number of seafarers affected could soon reach one million.

“This issue is presenting significant health and safety concerns to the already elevated mental and physical stress seafarers are facing and has the potential to result in major safety risks when exhausted seafarers handle dangerous or perishable cargoes. The environmental consequences of a serious maritime accident involving these cargoes could be catastrophic for our oceans and our security,” the letter said.

Vincent Kaufmann, CEO of Ethos Foundation, a signatory, said: “The fact that an estimated 400,000 seafarers remain stranded across global supply chains is a humanitarian tragedy as well as a major supply chain risk for many companies. Therefore, Ethos Foundation and the members of the Ethos Engagement Pool International are proud to support this investor statement urging the UN secretary-general to facilitate a multilateral response to ensure that seafarers are designated as key personnel and to take swift action to improve their current working conditions.”

In December the United Nations General Assembly asked UN member states to designate seafarers as key workers and implement measures to facilitate crew change.

The investor open letter asks for the following measures to be considered:

  • Continuing to call for the official designation of seafarers as “key workers” and the establishment of systematic processes to enable safe crew changes such as safe corridors and testing regimes;
  • Raising awareness, through a targeted publicity campaign, of the scale and risks this crisis is already creating for seafarers and sustainable supply chains;
  • Sharing the International Maritime Organisation’s 12-step protocol with relevant entities to facilitate universal implementation;
  • Ensuring seafarers should not spend more than the legal maximum of 11 months on board and limiting any unavoidable crew contract extension;
  • Urging charterers, especially those that charter vessels on a frequent basis, to be flexible with route deviation requests from shipping companies to facilitate crew change and to consider financial support for the costs of crew repatriation.

Collectively, the signatories are invested in every part of the shipping transportation value chain, including ship owners, logistics providers, management companies and charterers. They say as investors they acknowledge their responsibility with regard to the companies of which they are lenders or owners to raise concerns and seek constructive responses. The signatories have agreed to engage relevant portfolio companies to communicate their expectations around these measures.

Jenn-Hui Tan, global head of stewardship and sustainable investing at Fidelity International, said: “As investors, this is no longer solely a shipping industry problem nor a crisis the shipping industry can resolve on their own. Shipping is responsible for 90% of global trade and holds the key not just to a global economic recovery from the devastation of Covid-19, but to maintaining our current way of life. Seafarers must be classified as ‘key workers’ to enable them to perform their essential services in a safe and secure manner.

“It’s imperative the industry collectively sounds the alarm on an overlooked global humanitarian issue and protect our global supply chains. Together, as stewards of capital, we have a broader responsibility to the communities and societies in which we operate.”

Corey Klemmer, director of engagement at Domini Impact Investments, added: “Seafarers, trapped by their jurisdiction and Covid-19 restrictions, are yet another group of essential workers facing a humanitarian crisis in this pandemic. We need companies and their industry groups to step up and address the issue for the sake of these workers and our global economy.”

Signatories include:

  • Achmea Investment Management
  • ACTIAM N.V.
  • Adrian Dominican Sisters, Portfolio Advisory Board
  • Boston Common Asset Management
  • Domini Impact Investments
  • Ethos Foundation, Switzerland
  • Ethos Engagement Pool International, Switzerland
  • The Episcopal Church
  • Friends Fiduciary Corporation
  • GW&K Investment Management, LLC
  • Horizon Capital AG
  • Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility
  • Lombard Odier Investment Managers
  • Mercy Investment Services, Inc.
  • MFS Investment Management
  • Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment

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Natasha Turner

Natasha is global deputy editor at ESG Clarity, part of the Bonhill Group, and has been a financial journalist for six years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of...