Case study

Protecting seafarers’ rights

Owned and operationally controlled barges in Singapore and the UAE

Shipping is a priority area in Vitol’s human rights strategy, as potential adverse impacts on seafarers can be severe and are likely to occur if appropriate mitigation measures are not in place. Scenarios that increase the risk of adverse impacts to seafarers include:

  • Working under temporary contracts
  • Recruitment by third party crewing firms (and sub-agent structures)
  • Operating in high-risk and isolated work environments
  • Inability to leave their work environment

We undertook HRIAs on the barges and vessels we own to investigate actual and potential human rights impacts, ascertain whether our procedures are sufficiently robust to prevent and mitigate adverse impacts and understand how we can improve our due diligence procedures by engaging extensively with seafarers.

In 2021, we piloted our first HRIA in shipping with LSC, Vitol’s technical manager. In 2022, we undertook HRIAs in V-Bunkers (owner, manager and operator of barges) in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The HRIAs with V-Bunkers included two steps:

  • Completion of a third party managed, multi-lingual online, telephone and anonymous worker survey. 70% of the seafarers at sea at that time completed the questionnaire
  • Interviews with seafarers on barges. 20% and 80% of the seafarers working on V-Bunkers barges at that time were interviewed in Singapore and UAE respectively

Seafarers were asked to prioritise the issues they raised. The results led to the following priority areas for continued improvement:

  • Expanding regular communication between office staff and seagoing personnel to strengthen relationships and to build trust, including confidence to raise grievances. The crewing department revised how it reviews crew terms and conditions during the onboarding safety briefing, and encourages crew members to raise human rights and safety issues during their service period
  • Avoiding long, continuous services onboard to mitigate the risk of fatigue and promote mental wellbeing. As with many other shipping companies, V-Bunkers crew changes were heavily impacted by the pandemic. V-Bunkers crewing department made great efforts to contravene long continuous service onboard due to Covid-19 and the situation has improved further, helped by the relaxation of port authority rules
  • Boosting communication technologies to ensure daily contact of seafarers with family members and other stakeholders. V-Bunkers set the target to strengthen Wi-Fi connectivity for all barges by 2024. The enhancements will be gradually implemented during vessel surveys, dockings or during earlier repair periods

To monitor the effectiveness of our measures we undertook a follow-up online, telephone, and anonymous worker survey in 2023. We also developed KPIs to monitor those areas considered most important to seafarers. Further information on the survey results will be presented in our ESG Report 2023.