Modern slavery

Modern slavery in the cruise ship industry often involves slave-like working conditions for back-end staff as well as recruitment practices that put workers in debt bondage.

Employees on cruise ships, particularly back-end and unskilled labour staff, often face working conditions comparable to slave labour. Shifts of twelve or more hours without a day off for several months are common. Staff often receive very low salaries, which companies justify by arguing that workers receive high tips. With this system, however, staff bear major risks: If the cruise is not fully booked or if customers are less generous, their projected salaries can decline considerably.

Cruise ships often subcontract their staff recruiting to specialized agencies, handing over the direct responsibility for their staff and thereby paving the way for forced or bonded labour and exploitation. Migrant workers are at especially high risk of being recruited by dubious intermediate agencies, bonding them through fees for transport and visas, or having them pay for receiving a working contract, even before they have earned any money. Workers are attracted with the vision of working in a luxury environment but end up in sweatshop-like conditions under deck.

Many cruise companies take advantage of national laws allowing shipping companies to sail under foreign flags, making it even harder to hold them accountable when human rights and labour law violations occur on their ships.

Slave-like conditions
Labour inspections: Netherlands
Slave-like conditions

Brazil 'rescues' cruise workers from 'slave-like conditions'

When inspecting a cruise ship belonging to the MSC Cruise Lines while it was docking in the city of Salvador, Brazilian officials identified 13 staff who had been subject to slave-like working conditions, working up to 16 hours a day.

Labour inspections: Netherlands

The Royal Caribbean cruise company’s Oasis of the Seas cruise liner was inspected by the Dutch labour department when it was docked in Rotterdam. The inspection uncovered that at least 85 employees, mainly from the Philippines and South America, did not have proper work permits. Moreover, they discovered that staff had been working to up to 16 hours a day. The cruise line was fined €600,000 for various violations of Dutch labour laws and the International Maritime Convention.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Develop a company-specific policy statement containing the commitment not to accept recruitment fees being paid by migrant workers.
  • Integrate clauses on modern slavery/no recruitment fees for migrant workers in contracts with cruise companies.

Training and capacity building

  • Conduct training with sales staff (internal) and with cruise suppliers on modern slavery.

Communication and reporting

  • Report how your company deals with modern slavery risks in cruises (Modern Slavery Statements (UK)).

Grievance mechanisms

  • Promote and inform customers about helplines and hotlines, where incidents of modern slavery can be reported. 

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.