(Bloomberg) — Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos is being targeted by shipping groups to support some 400,000 seafarers stuck on merchant vessels because of port and border restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19.
While consumer giants such as Unilever Plc and Procter & Gamble Co. have called for measures to allow more crew changes at ports, ensure the safety of overworked seafarers and make sure supply chains don’t use forced labor, the world’s largest ecommerce retailer has so far remained silent on the issue, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.
“The strength of Amazon’s (and others’) supply chain is central to the success of red-letter retail days like Black Friday,” groups including the ICS wrote in an open letter to Bezos released with a joint statement Thursday. “Without these seafarers, global trade as we know it would simply cease to exist.”
The letter urged Bezos to exert pressure on the new U.S. administration and other leaders to recognize seafarers as key workers. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
A Bloomberg investigation earlier this year uncovered more than 40 seafarers on nearly as many ships who described deteriorating conditions. About half didn’t have current contracts and some said they hadn’t been paid in more than two months, meeting the International Labour Organization’s definition of forced labor. Most hadn’t left their ships in months after coronavirus outbreaks tied to cruise liners and merchant ships put an end to shore leave.
“Unforgivably, more than 400,000 of our seagoing colleagues and seafarers, who underpin the movement of goods around the world, are currently stranded on board their vessels, because governments will not recognize their crucial role and prioritize them for immigration and travel purposes,” the letter to Bezos said.
Some mariners have been at sea for more than a year, the letter said, adding that about 90% of global trade relies on shipping and the success and scale of shopping events such as Cyber Monday wouldn’t be possible without their work.
“Throughout some of the most difficult conditions in living memory, they have continued to transport the goods needed to satisfy the demand generated by platforms including Amazon,” it said.
(Updates with details throughout.)
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