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Nautilus calls time on recruitment fraud and job scams after new research reveals seafarers face widespread illegal practices

17 April 2023

Nautilus has called for urgent action by governments and industry in the light of new research which has found that the charging of 'recruitment fees' is one of the most common illegal practices faced by seafarers, and one which can leave them in significant debt.

Over two thirds (70%) of seafarers who have experienced violations of their workers', say they were either charged recruitment fees – an illegal practice that can result in significant levels of debt leading to forced labour conditions – or were victims of fake job offers after making advance payments.

Of those seafarers who experienced illegal charging of recruitment fees, the majority (71%) did not report it, in most cases because they didn't know where to report such abuses.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said: 'Recruitment fraud and job scams are outrageous practices that can leave seafarers jobless and/or in serious debt. The charging of recruitment fees to seafarers is expressly prohibited under the Maritime Labour Convention – if it is as widespread as this research indicates, then governments and the shipping industry must take urgent and determined action to stamp out this illegal practice.'

These findings are outlined in a research briefing − Seafarers and Recruitment Fees − published by international thinktank the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). Almost 5,000 seafarers were surveyed for the research between September 2022 and February 2023.

IHRB senior advisor Frances House said: 'No worker should have to pay for their own job. But the reality remains that far too many seafarers continue to confront the illegal practice of recruitment fees.

'With 90% of world trade carried by sea, there is almost no company immune from needing to carry out their own due diligence on the issue of recruitment fees – from the shipping industry itself to commodity companies and high-street brands. This research exposes just how prolific recruitment fees are for seafarers – the time has come to end this illegal practice, and we will continue to work to ensure respect for the rights of seafarers everywhere.'

IHRB will be hosting a two-part panel on seafarers and recruitment fees on 14 June at the Global Forum on Responsible Recruitment.

I have not seen a single company that does not deceive sailors or extort their money from them respondent from Lithuania

7 recommendations to stamp out recruitment fraud

  • shipping companies should ensure that seafarers employed on board their ships have not been charged recruitment fees to secure their work contracts
  • customers of shipping companies – including charterers, commodity companies and traders, and container cargo owners – must carry out human rights due diligence in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • port state authorities must investigate any reports of the charging of recruitment fees
  • home states (where recruitment agencies are based) must ensure that recruitment agencies do not charge fees for jobs, and enforce penalties for such practices
  • ensure greater awareness of the illegality of the charging of recruitment fees, among seafarers, national authorities, ship operators and cargo owners
  • effective mechanisms needed to penalise offending agencies and a remedy for seafarers who have paid illegal recruitment fees, including possibly, reimbursement by employers of fees already paid
  • ensure seafarers know how and where to report such practices
Download the full IHRB report on seafarers' recruitment fees Report a job scam or agent via the ITF Ship Be Sure website