Toxic Trade News / 19 January 2006
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Power of Organized Labour Plugs into Global Environmental Issues
Press Release - United Nations Environment Programme
19 January 2006 – A strategy to replicate over 20 concrete case studies, showcasing chemicals safety in West Africa, climate change and energy efficiency in European homes and cyanide pollution in Pacific mines, was agreed today at an international trade unions meeting.

The decision was among a wide ranging strategy to mainstream environment and sustainable development within the trade unions movement adopted at the close of a unique assembly of organized labour and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The assembly, involving representatives from over 150 trade unions, underlined that the environment and job security were mutually supportive.

It has finally put paid to the once popular perception that conservation and environmental protection is a burden and threat to employment.

Indeed trade union leaders agreed that the environment protection represents not only a track to decent, healthy and long lasting employment but a source of new jobs in areas from renewable energy up to cleaner production processes.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said today at the close of the Assembly: “Trade Unions and their role in the work place can be a catalyst for positive environmental change while bearing witness to occupational practices that have the potential to harm or improve not only workers and their families but planet Earth as a whole”.

“This Assembly has finally blown away any lingering notions that environmental protection and job stability and job creation are contradictions. So I am delighted that we have finally come together to forge a forward looking road map for closer cooperation. I am also delighted that Cristina Narbona, the environment minister of Spain, was able to be with us and share her experiences of joining hands with organized labour in the battle against global warming,” he added.

“I am sure that the many case studies, presented here on chemicals and climate change up to cleaner production initiatives, will be taken forward and replicated across the developing and developed world,” said Mr. Toepfer.

Among the case studies presented was one from Nigeria, where a campaign has been launched to consign health hazardous, outdated and obsolete chemicals to the history books. It should eventually benefit an estimated five million factory workers along with the wider West African environment.

Another was a joint Norwegian and Russian programme is educating and training staff at Russian factories in areas such as health and safety and cleaner production techniques.

Gains are expected to include healthier working conditions and reduced emissions to land, water and air.

Meanwhile in Germany a project is underway to make 300,000 apartments energy efficient under a renovation scheme. It should generate 200,000 jobs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions by two million tonnes.

A further one includes a survey by trade unions of cyanide pollution linked with mining operations in New Caledonia.

Cristina Narbona said such case studies were vital information paths able, through replication, to empower workers across the globe towards a more sustainable world: “Citizens including trade unions are eager to be more active in areas of social and environmental responsibility”.

“It is crucial that national governments act to break the vicious cycle, based often on the lack of information and the inability to participate, that has restricted the contribution of these central civil society organizations in our mutual quest for a more sustainable and just world,” she added.

Trade unions also agreed that environmental rights such as access to basic resources like water and energy should stand side by side with more traditional workers rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Trade unions also agreed to embrace the targets and timetables of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation which was forged at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Other agreements, outlined in the Workers’ Initiative for a Lasting Legacy adopted in Nairobi, Kenya, at the first Trade Unions’ Assembly on Labour and the Environment, include action on climate change and promotion of sustainable production and consumption patterns.

It was also agreed to strengthen cooperation between unions and organizations like UNEP, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organisation and government ministries including environment, social, labour and health ministries in order to improve occupational health and safety and achieve wider environmental goals.

The three day Assembly, held at UNEP’s headquarters with the support of the UN Global Compact, re-affirmed that decent and secure jobs are vital for sustainable livelihoods and that they are only possible in an environmentally healthy world.

Trade Unions today pledged to work towards government reforms that recognize environmental rights and to assess, plan and monitor programmes that deliver safe and environmentally-friendly industrial, manufacturing and production processes.

Other areas include working for the ratification and implementation of key treaties that promote important social, economic and environmental objectives alongside monitoring of governments so that their purchasing, regulation and land-use policies meet sound social and environmental targets.

A specific commitment is to work to ensure a complete ban of asbestos use and its safe disposal as set out in the Basel Convention on hazardous wastes.

The Workers’ Initiative for a Lasting Legacy or WILL2006 Assembly was organized by UNEP in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO)and the International Labour Foundation for Sustainable Development (Sustainlabour).

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