All bark and no bite

Policy documents, company values and norms emphasize the importance of social sustainability. But in practice there is not much done to achieve it. Cecilia Österman, a researcher at Linnaeus University, is not surprised by the results of the latest pre-study from the Swedish Transport Administration's industry program Sustainable Shipping, which Lighthouse coordinates.


"Most stakeholders we have interviewed have a policy on working conditions and social values, but we have not been able to identify any who work with this strategically. Action plans and practical tools are lacking."

The results confirm the picture Cecilia Österman had before she started the work on the prestudy that map how actors in the Swedish shipping industry work on issues related to social sustainability. There is a large gap between policies and practices.
Isn't that a little sad?

“Both yes and no. Shipping is the world's most globalized industry and if you look at it from that perspective, you can see the result as an expression that we are still doing quite well in Sweden. Maybe we are a little too comfortable with that and think that other things are more important. But there are many challenges to tackle. Ill health, for example, looks different today than it did before. We can not be happy that people do not die at work, we must have higher ambitions than that. Health problems are increasing and people are dying prematurely from stress-related illnesses and so on.”

In a global perspective, shipping tops suicide statistics. Why is difficult to say - the causes  are complex, Cecilia Österman says.

“I think it may be partly because the definition on safety is too narrow. Preventive proactive maritime safety work generally focuses on ships not burning up, sinking or colliding. The work environment issues that ultimately affect maritime safety tend to be forgotten.”

There is also a lot to do in the field of gender equality. Shipping is still stuck in old traditions and patterns.

“The metoo movement started in 2017 and last year the IMO decided that World Maritime Day would be celebrated on the theme "empowering women". In the 30 years I have been involved in shipping, there has never been so much focus on gender equality and women's conditions as now. Despite that, I have only this week seen two examples of the type of "manels" where, at industry conferences, only white middle-aged men are invited to panel discussions. They say that gender equality is important. All bark and no bite, I say.”

The results of the pre-study clearly illustrate how complex the concept of sustainability is. When it is not operationalized, sustainable shipping is primarily associated with ecological sustainability, often with a focus on climate issues.