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ITF message to Maersk: trade unions must have a seat at the table

news Press Release 13 Mar 2024

ITF tells world’s largest shipping company AGM to protect workers and their jobs, create decent work for future

Trade unions must be consulted in the process of shipping company Maersk’s expansion into shoreside logistics, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) will tell Maersk executives and shareholders today (Thursday) at the company’s AGM in Copenhagen.

Maersk’s expansion into land-side logistics presents opportunities and risks, with the expansion of already complex contracting chains increasing the likelihood of unseen labour and human rights abuses – just as supply chain due diligence obligations are being strengthened in many countries.

“When the ITF and Maersk have worked well together, the result has been beneficial for both of us,” said Jacqueline Smith, Maritime Coordinator for the ITF. “As Maersk expands, now more than ever it’s vital that it works with trade unions to protect its new and future workers from abuses of their hard-won rights.

“We know only too well that complex supply chains spanning land and sea can hide workers and the abuses they face. If Maersk is serious about the values it trumpets, now is the time for it to live up to its words with actions.”

The experience of ITF affiliates and research shows that extended contracting chains can lead to more downward pressure on pay, conditions, health and safety. Supply chain complexity, particularly in inland transport, often obscures the impact of these pressures on workers and allowed transport suppliers to avoid responsibility for addressing risks and abuses. 

At a time when supply chain ‘human rights due diligence’ laws are increasingly coming into force or being tabled, greater cooperation between Maersk and trade unions will both protect workers and ensure Maersk become a recognised leader in supply chain accountability – rather than facing legal liability for harms its workers may suffer.

Flemming Overgaard, ITF Road Transport Section Chair, said: “The ITF congratulates Maersk for the commitments it has made to address labour and human rights risks in its shore-based operations through its Global Standards on Third Party Labour. We want to make sure this policy and Maersk’s Code of Conduct are implemented effectively for all workers in Maersk operations, whether they work on ships, on the docks, in warehouses or in road and rail corridors. 

“With our first-hand knowledge of the conditions in Maersk’s supply chain, the ITF and its affiliates are well positioned to partner with the company to mitigate any significant risks, helping it to become a leader in human rights due diligence and supply chain accountability.”

The ITF is concerned about the fate of workers across a number of transport operations Maersk is involved in. This includes Svitzer, a towage subsidiary which will be demerged from Maersk and is subject to an emergency shareholder meeting next month (April). The ITF and its affiliates demand dialogue continues as tugboat workers face continuing attacks on pay and conditions.

At Bremerhaven seaport, Gateway Terminals India and at Colombo harbour terminals in Sri Lanka – all of which Maersk holds stakes in – the ITF and its affiliates have concerns including upholding collective bargaining agreements in the face of automation, the provision of health care for employees’ spouses and children, and the failure to provide proper facilities for women – in stark contrast to Maersk’s commitment to promote women in the maritime industry.

With such attacks on workers’ rights already a concern in Maersk’s maritime operations, its extension into inland transport and logistics only serves to add to the complexity of contracting chains the company is enmeshed within.

ITF Maersk Network Chair and 3F National Secretary for Maritime, Karsten Kristensen, will tell the Maersk AGM: “Our already well-established relationship in maritime sectors – ports, ships, and tugs – has proven to be mutually beneficial and cooperative. The collaboration between the ITF and Maersk has the potential to set a precedent for labour relations in the industry.” 

“Tick-box exercises deeming workers as the most valuable asset in a company are not enough. Meaningful action by the employer, including empowerment of the workforce through positive dialogue with trade unions will, without doubt, also contribute to the success of the company.”

Image credit: Reuters, Yu fangping



  • New human rights due diligence laws include Germany’s Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, in force since 1 January 2023. The EU ‘Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive’, first adopted by the European Commission in February 2022, is now under discussion at the European Council.
  • Bremerhaven seaport is a joint venture between Eurogate and APM Terminals (APMT), the latter of which Maersk holds a significant stake in: planned automation at Bremerhaven must be in line with the existing collective bargaining agreement between workers and the companies.
  • APMT holds a 75% stake in Gateway Terminals India (GTI), where workers are consistently being outsourced when they should be directly employed. Health care insurance for employees’ spouses and children are also being denied, when they should instead be guaranteed by APMT- GTI.
  • Workers in Colombo harbour terminals in Sri Lanka are highlighting the lack of proper facilities for women; Maersk states that by, “creating opportunities and facilitating industry-wide transformation, we can empower more women to choose a career at sea”.
  • The full ITF Maersk Network statement to be given to the Maersk AGM is available below.


About the ITF: The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic, affiliate-led federation of transport workers’ unions recognised as the world’s leading transport authority. We fight passionately to improve working lives; connecting trade unions and workers’ networks from 147 countries to secure rights, equality and justice for their members. We are the voice of the almost-20 million women and men who move the world.  

Media contact:  Mark Dearn +44 7738 832 413