Exploitation of Philippine sailors on inland vessels (the Netherlands)

Almost 15,000 Philippine sailors are currently working on Dutch flagged ships. Working on board Dutch ships generally offers a great opportunity for these sailors, because of the decent salaries, good working conditions and career prospects. An exception is the case of ‘Shipping Crew’, a company consisting of a Netherlands-based parent company and a Philippines-based subsidiary. The case is still before the court in the Philippines so the outcome of the trial cannot be prejudged.

The company in question owns ships and recruits sailors for inland shipping in the Netherlands. The recruitment is being done through its local manning agency in the Philippines. The sailors all signed contracts with the Philippines-based recruitment agency. The Dutch parent company would then apply for work and residence permits in the Netherlands. Many of the sailors would go and work on inland vessels owned by the Dutch parent company itself. Others would be employed on other inland vessels through the Dutch company.

When applying for a visa at the embassy, sailors are required to submit their contract to be endorsed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), among others. While dealing with such visa, an embassy official noticed that the salaries on these POEA contracts were far below the Dutch minimum wages. When questioned about these contracts and the minimum wages, the Dutch parent company claimed that the sailors were paid in accordance with Dutch minimum wages and presented (Dutch) contracts with a higher wage.

According to the parent company, the salaries mentioned in the Dutch contracts were the real salaries. However, the embassy concluded that the company was using two contracts for one and the same sailor. The embassy informed the enforcement agencies in the Netherlands about the signs of exploitation, and that to all appearances the Philippine sailors were being defrauded and exploited.

Investigation ‘Cornwall’

Also in 2011, the maritime unit of the police and the labour inspectorate followed up on reports and signs that Philippine seamen working on Dutch ships in inland waterways were being exploited. They began a joint investigation, called ‘Cornwall.’ The investigation revealed that some men were indeed working long hours without days off for weeks and even months on end. They were unable to leave the ship because their passports had been taken.

At the centre of the investigation was the Dutch parent company, which was suspected of forging applications for labour contracts and residence permits. After coordination between the Public Prosecution Service and the Labour Inspectorate in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice, cases were filed against the officials of the parent company in the Netherlands for THB for labour exploitation.

In the Philippines, based on a criminal and administrative investigation, charges for illegal recruitment were likewise filed against the officials of the local manning agency.

Partners involved in the cooperation

  • The Netherlands Embassy in the Philippines: detection of signs of trafficking from the visa applications of sailors: coordination between Dutch and Philippine authorities
  • Public Prosecution Service and Inspectorate SZW of the Netherlands: investigation and prosecution of the case
  • Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines: official channel for the request for legal assistance
  • Department of Justice of the Philippines: central authority in coordinating requests for legal assistance in the Philippines
  • Philippine Overseas Employment Administration: provision of information on the local manning agency; administrative investigation of the case
  • Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council: assistance in tracing the money trail of the subsidiary in the Philippines; freezing and forfeiture of assets.

What made this case successful?

The multi-sectoral approach to this case, involving players from different jurisdictions, was a very complex process. Howerver, it ensured that all angles of the case were dealt with.

In the Netherlands, the officials of the parent company have been convicted of migrant smuggling, forgery of documents and running a criminal organisation. They were given a prison sentence of 15 months, of which 5 suspended. The company was also convicted and given a fine of € 65,000. The court found there was not enough evidence of THB. The Public Prosecution Service has lodged an appeal against the acquittal for THB.

In the Philippines, administrative sanctions (suspension of license) have been imposed against the local manning agency. A criminal case is still on-going with a case for forfeiture of assets filed. Millions of pesos have been frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

The Philippines has amended its anti-trafficking and anti-money laundering law, with this case against the parent company and its local manning agent as a model. The changes are aimed at setting up a trust fund for victims of trafficking in human beings, financed by the frozen assets.