Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Luisa Piart

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Research Project

Labour Governance in the Shipping Industry: An Anthropological Study of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006

Adopted in 2006, the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) is one of 190 ILO conventions of the International Labour Organization. It establishes minimum working and living standards for all seafarers on merchant vessels. The development of the MLC started in 2001 and entered into force in 2013. Its negotiations in Geneva followed a classic tripartite scheme involving representatives of governments, ship owners, and seafarers. The MLC, 2006 has been described as ‘the most stringent of any ILO Convention ever adopted in the Organization’s history’ by the ILO. The London-based International Transport Federation (ITF) —the most important trade union representing seafarers’ interests— called it ‘the first ever true bill of rights for those working at sea’. And according to the American labour historian Leon Fink, the MLC, 2006 creates ‘an occupational regulatory framework operating at a scale without parallel in the world today’. What explains such enthusiastic words? How does the MLC, 2006 translate into different national laws, and what problems of the shipping industry does it address?

This anthropological research project seeks to answer these questions by exploring the enforcement regime of the MLC, which is backed by an important system of inspections and certification. As of today, the MLC has been ratified by 96 countries representing 91 per cent of the world fleet in gross tonnage. This strong approval relies on a ‘no more favourable treatment’ clause that prevents ships flying flags of states that have not signed the MLC from having an unfair advantage over ships flying the flags of states that have. The implementation of the MLC is based on the circulation of reports and exchange of information between port authorities throughout the world. My multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork for this project will follow the emergence of monitoring tools and track the development of new legal procedures through international cooperation. The main contribution of this project will be to provide an ethnographic comparison of the implementation regime of the MLC, 2006 in two port cities: Hamburg and Panama.


2019 - present


Prof. Dr. Olaf Zenker