Stephen Cotton


General Secretary

Stephen Cotton is the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), a global union federation of nearly 670 trade unions representing over 18 million workers in 154 countries in the maritime, port, road, rail, aviation, and urban transport sectors. He was elected to the position at the 43rd ITF Congress held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2014, and re-elected at the 44th ITF Congress in Singapore, 2018.

Under his leadership as general secretary, the ITF has transformed into a proactive campaigning organization, allowing the ITF and its affiliates to secure industry-leading contracts and protocols with key multinational companies in the transport sector, including aviation, maritime, and road transport.

Cotton joined the ITF in 1993 as head of the agreements unit in the maritime section. He was later promoted to the position of assistant secretary of the special seafarers’ department (SSD), secretary of the SSD, and maritime coordinator prior to his appointment as acting general secretary in October 2012.

During his time as leader of the ITF’s maritime section, significant achievements were made that have positively impacted the maritime industry and bettered the lives of seafarers. The ITF inspectorate expanded from 35 to 147 inspectors and contacts, and ships covered under ITF collective bargaining agreements increased to over 12,000 from less than 2,000. Cotton oversaw major Flags of Convenience (FOC) policy changes and led the introduction of ‘Oslo to Delhi’ and Mexico City policies, which laid the foundation for the landmark 2006 signing of the International Labour Organization’s Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) – establishing a set of international minimum standards enforceable by international law.

Throughout his career at the ITF, Cotton has sought to improve the operations of the ITF, focusing on building affiliates’ power and streamlining the operations of the secretariat in order to make a real difference in the lives of transport workers and influence lead industry players in the transport sector.

He is Chair of the Council of Global Unions (CGU), a trustee of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, and serves on the United Seaman’s Service (USS) governing body.

In 2014, Cotton received the United Seamen’s Service (USS) Admiral of the Ocean Sea Award (AOTOS), the maritime industry’s most prestigious award, in recognition of his work for defending the well-being and fair treatment of seafarers around the world. 

Sessions With Stephen Cotton

Wednesday, 23 June

  • 01:35pm - 02:20pm (CET) / 23/jun/2021 11:35 am - 23/jun/2021 12:20 pm

    Risk and Resilience

    What Crisis Next? Lessons Learned from COVID-19


    One year on from the COVID19 global pandemic outbreak, ports around the world have demonstrated their resilience in keeping supply chains operational. This has been the case despite initial labour shortages, disruptive governmenal interventions to limit the spread of the disease and highly unpredictable supply and demand conditions due to panic consumption and multiple lockdowns impacting economic activity. With disruption still the norm, particularly in the container sector with imbalances created and rates at an all time high, ports are reassessing how to cope with crises on a permanent basis. In this insightful session, find out exactly what sort of measures ports should be taking in order to prepare themselves for the next crisis, be it financial, health-related, economic, climate-change related or otherwise.