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David Hammond on how the charity he founded is engaging with businesses to end human rights abuse in the maritime supply chain
The idea of starting a charity called Human Rights at Sea was born through a combination of past military maritime and conflict-related human rights experience, an unexpected realisation that there was a gap in the maritime market explicitly dealing with the issue, and a request from a former client in 2013 asking: "What is the landscape for human rights at sea?"
The issue is enormous. When you consider that human rights are fundamental to all people, that 90% of the world's goods move by sea and the enormity of the related maritime supply chain – plus the numbers of fishermen, refugees and migrants who move across bodies of water – you start to get a feel for the reality behind the words “human rights at sea”.
In many respects, the background that brought my professional focus to what is now an international platform and the increasing use of those four words was a perfect storm, to use the maritime vernacular.
When I introduced the concept at the first London International Shipping Week in 2013, I could not have realised that it would evolve into a registered charity, which includes awareness, education, protection and remedy by business as part of the commercial value chain, as just one example of our scope and reach.
My 21 years in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines involved, variously, watch-keeping on a ship's bridge, flying reconnaissance helicopters, providing legal advice, working both at sea and on land in conflict areas and undergoing criminal legal training to become the Royal Marines' first barrister.
After retiring early in 2011, the step into the "real world" was a baptism of sorts, especially as I had virtually no commercial experience. What my experience had taught me, though, was that delivery is everything.
Having developed the first voluntary international set of rules for the use of force (the 100 Series Rules) for private maritime security companies on board commercial vessels at the height of the East African and Indian Ocean piracy endemic, I was shocked to realise there was no effective international advocacy, investigative and educational platform for explicit matters of human rights at sea.
I bought the web domain and immediately set about creating a new international resource platform built on factual, objective work bound by our core values of transparency, clarity and accountability, and the underlying principle that human rights apply at sea as equally as they do on land. I had to use my life savings, but was driven by a blunt determination to succeed. I thank the Royal Marines' training for that stubbornness: when your back is against the wall there are only two options.
Having become a registered charity in England and Wales in May 2015, we have a rapidly evolving independent charitable brand. We are increasingly working with large business entities that have some link with the maritime sector and supply chain.
A signatory and member of the UN Global Compact working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we currently have 83 supporting entities. These are organisations that have voluntarily agreed to support the concept of our charity, who agree with our founding principle and who provide professional support and, where agreed, financial donor assistance, or non-financial support through benefits in kind.
These include other NGOs; law firms such as Mishcon de Reya LLP, Holan Fenwick Wilan LLP, the Law Society, the International Bar Association; business and human rights organisations such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre; banks such as the Dutch bank NIBC; currency exchange organisations such as AFEX; commercial firms such as Mazars LLP, IMPA (International Marine Purchasing Association); fisheries organisations; and of course, Ethical Corporation. We also work with other large organisations on a much more discreet basis and so in reality the number of supporting entities is much more than 83.
Among other initiatives, we have collaborated with international NGOs in directly advocating against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing matters in Thailand; fundraised for the making of a film by a young team from 6th International Films about migrant abuses called The Dead Sea; launched eight innovative maritime publications, including a first maritime review of the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and delivered the first Diversity and Inclusion e-learning course for seafarers through a new partnership with Marlins. Last September, the charity conceived and held the inaugural International Maritime Human Rights conference in London featuring speakers from around the world.
As for the future? Who knows, but if the last three years are anything to go by, I feel that the future is bright for the integration of those four words, “human rights at sea”, into everyday commercial language, policy and development.
Human rights supply chains refugees seafood supply chains