TSAVLIRIS SALVAGE GROUP - News & Announcements

Tradewinds: "Tsavliris’ perspective on human rights at sea sets a standard for our industry" - 2016 Oct 28

Paying lip service to expected norms of corporate behaviour is one thing. Acting out of conviction is quite another. On that score, we could all take a leaf out of one Greek shipowner's book.

Speaking at the International Maritime Human Rights Conference in London last month, George Tsavliris of Tsavliris Salvage acknowledged that addressing the impact of human rights on business and reputation from a shipowner's perspective was a relatively "new way of looking at things for me".

Turning things around, he suggested it might be better to consider how business and reputation affect human rights. What does it really take?

There is always the textbook definition of human rights — allowing individuals "the freedom to lead a dignified life, free from fear or want and free to express independent beliefs". But Tsavliris believes the "instruction manual" approach, or at least being seen to heed human rights as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, has not "got us anywhere historically" and will not come anywhere near solving human rights challenges in the maritime domain.

"Nothing can be achieved without a combined effort from everybody at all levels... The whole situation of complying with or achieving something has to start by a mechanism [with roots] in your own soul," he said.

Tsavliris said his family-run business is based on one simple code of ethics — "We care" — and that's what is most important.

Most companies, of course, "recognise that managing risk and securing their licence to operate depends on being aware of their own human rights impacts, as well as recognising public and political expectations of corporate behaviour", and this is especially true of shipping, given its global reach.

"Companies that have operations in regions where human rights abuses are widespread may find that their conduct is subject to scrutiny by regulators, government agencies, NGOs, socially responsible investors and even their own employees and customers," Tsavliris noted.

'A degree of hypocrisy'

But there is the temptation to hide behind a CSR policy that claims one thing but where the reality can sometimes be quite different. "I find there is a degree of hypocrisy," he said. That's why, even though he respects it, "I don't have much time for [the textbook approach]".

The vital thing is "being able to care personally, being able to comply with our own conscience".

"That is basically the most imperative requisite to look at any situation," he added, noting the migrant crisis, criminalisation of seafarers, piracy and ship demolition in South Asia as the four main areas in shipping in which, in his experience, human rights have been on the agenda or debated.

Abandonment of seafarers, ensuring optimal working conditions and the environmental choices owners and operators make could be added to that list — as could matters as mundane as courtesy in dealing with others. Without reluctance and without being compelled by regulators.

To be sure, we're not all made the same and there are difficult choices, especially in a fiercely competitive business, in which doing "what is right" is very much a matter of perspective — "one man's ceiling is another man's floor", as the Paul Simon song goes — but while pondering the pros and cons, can we really go wrong if we listen to our conscience, provided we have one?

It is clear that his Greek Orthodox faith is an inspiration for Tsavliris but you don't need to be a believer to have a firm code of ethics; to do what you know is right even if you have to pay more for it; to choose not to look the other way; to be humble enough to think again; or indeed not to make the same mistake again.

Of course it's hard to live up to but I venture that Tsavliris' call is one that everyone everywhere in shipping could embrace and try to practise. It may even save you money in the long run.

By Roderick Craig - Tradewinds, 28 October 2016