Some 300,000 people who work on commercial vessels — the kinds that carry food and health and hygiene products, among other things — are stuck on their ships, unable to get off due to COVID-19 measures. Governments around the world have closed ports, borders and other travel facilities that allow crew changes.
Not being able to change crews on these ships is a problem for the health and safety of workers, as well as a pretty good way to clog up supply chains.
Now, the CEOs of some of the largest consumer products companies — Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson — are weighing in on what they say is a question of human rights on the high seas.
Typically, commercial ship workers sign contracts of six, 10 or 12 months. And when that’s up, the ships swap crews at the next port.
“But whenever they came near the ports, the port is not allowing any kind of transfer,” said Branko Berlan with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
He said some workers have been stuck onboard for 17 months, and some ports are accepting products but not people. In one case, several ports refused to take the body of a ship worker who died.
“And then we actually find a way that the body was taken in Singapore after 15 days onboard the ship,” Berlan said.
The issue of overworked crews is clogging up the supply chain.
Tom Derry, CEO of the Institute for Supply Management, said officials in places like Australia are starting to ban improperly staffed ships from sailing.
“Because we’re seeing these ships taken out of circulation as it were, we’ve seen rates for freight crossing the Pacific more than quadruple since June,” he said.
Derry said delays are causing fridge and dishwasher shortages in the U.S. And keeping goods moving is critical to the multinational firms now pressuring the United Nations to get involved, including the Consumer Goods Forum.
“We can’t face the risk of global supply chains being disrupted. And all of this at the expense of workers’ well-being,” said Didier Bergeret, the forum’s director.
Meantime, the workers remain mostly invisible, said Andrew Kinsey, marine risk consultant at the insurer Allianz.
“When you go into a store and you look at items on the shelves, the way they got to that shelf was via ship,” he said. “As a consumer, we’re blind to it.”
About 80% of goods in the world are delivered by sea.
What does the unemployment picture look like?
It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.
Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?
Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.
How are restaurants recovering?
Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.
As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.
Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.
Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.