Have you heard legendary Christian pop band DC Talk are getting back together....for a Jesus Freak Cruise in 2017?
I think we can all agree the cruise would be an epic time to sing, "What if I Stumble? What if I Fall [overboard]?" with new depths of meaning.
But the boys in the band are getting some flack. People are pointing out the geriatric, silly nature of their come-back.
Funny. No-one notices the real issue at hand - that cruises are notorious for gross injustice and human rights abuses.
Seriously, these "sweatships" are a floating microcosm of the worst things about this world.
So here's a little background...
Every year over 19 million people, mostly from North America, take a cruise - earning the love boat industry more than $36 billion in revenue each year.
The ship DC Talk have chosen for their cruise is called the MSC Divina. It's owned by the Mediterranean Shipping Company - MSC Cruises (the 4th largest cruise line in the world). Remember that name - MSC. This is a story about them.
What most of you cruise punters may not know is, these boats are a hotbed of trouble. Here are just three small areas of concern:
1. Destroying the Earth
Cruises are notorious for being floating ecological disasters. MSC has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for dumping bags of trash overboard. This is not just a specific problem with this company. Check out this chart from Friends of the Earth which shows that MSC cruises gets an F for their overall environmental performance:
2. Exploiting Poor People
I have a number of friends who have worked on cruise ships and they first alerted me to the fact that some crew members from the developing world endure terrible conditions on board - working long hours, with zero days off, for months on end.
To be sure, some people make BIG money working on ships. Especially, if you are white, or working in contact with passengers.
Fact is, these ships are a floating microcosm of our world:
- On the upper decks are the passengers and European or North American staff who enjoy the best conditions. They enjoy the "cruisey" lifestyle we all know and secretly love.
- They are served by the "lucky" developing world staff who have passenger contact (tips!) and access to daylight.
- Worst off, are the staff who toil in the bowels of the ship peeling potatoes or washing clothes - they slave away without daylight or passenger tips.
Pay can be as low as $1.25 an hour and some have tips withheld, do not receive tips, or have multiple deductions made for uniforms, training, flights etc. Some folks don't start earning till months into their contract - because they have huge deposits to pay back.
3. Human Rights Issues
Moving beyond the exploitative pay scales and hours worked, there are too many human rights abuses being reported (and not reported) on sweatships.
For example, in 2014, Brazilian police boarded an MSC cruise ship and rescued 11 crew from what the BBC describes as "slave-like conditions". Some were alleged to have been sexually harassed.
MSC put out a statement, "MSC Crociere is in full compliance with national and international labour regulations and is ready to co-operate with the authorities."
So how do they get away with these practices? Easy! By registering their ships in dodgy places like Panama where laws are lax and perks are plentiful. For example, the world's largest international cruise line, Carnival, is incorporated in Panama; its British subsidiary, Princess Cruises, is incorporated in Bermuda. While Royal Caribbean is incorporated in Liberia.
These companies pay virtually no U.S. taxes and don't need to follow American employment and safety laws. Sweet deal - for the cruise lines.
So, what can be done?
I have a handful of quick responses. Add your own ideas in the comments below.
1. Don't Cruise. I personally would no longer go on a cruise. As far as I have researched, most cruise ships are owned by the same large corporations and the problems are consistent. The words of Isaiah 58 are a reminder of what God calls us NOT to do, "On the day of your fast you do as you please and exploit your workers."
2. Cruise Ethically. If you simply must cruise then do your homework and check out these online resources to see if you can find one that is not grinding the bones of poor people into your soup. Check out Ethical Traveler, Friends of the Earth, Responsible Vacation and Cruise Law News.
3. Raise Awareness. This is an issue that is not well known. Again, Isaiah 58, "Shout it aloud, do not hold back!" Let your friends in on the dirty little secret of cruise industry exploitation. For example, a few years ago, a bunch of us organized Pirates of Justice flash mobs to bring media attention to the cruise problem. It was heaps of fun and brought some good media attention to the plight of cruise workers. You can read the full story of the Pirates of Justice in my new book, Subversive Jesus. (PS. You might be able to spot a long-haired Jack Sparrow version of me in the video below.)