UN Human Rights Council Adopts Key Report on Exposure of Workers to Toxic Substances

A new report adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) says that the exposure of workers to toxic substances is a global challenge that can and should be considered a form of exploitation. The HRC is calling states, business actors and international organisations to urgently eliminate or minimise workers’ exposure to these substances. The ITUC will work with all stakeholders to see that these recommendations are put into practice.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said, “Governments must do everything in their power to protect all workers from occupational exposures to toxic substances. Companies have a responsibility, as part of the due diligence expected of them, to prevent and mitigate impacts on human rights, including workers’ rights, due to exposures to toxic substances.”

“Samsung, as one example, has to date refused to release the name of chemicals that have killed more than 76 people and injured more than 200 others. All companies must put transparency of chemical use safety standards ahead of corporate greed,” added Burrow.

The new report sets out 15 recommendations to respect and fulfil the human rights of workers that have been infringed by their occupational exposures to toxic and otherwise hazardous substances.

These include:

  • Governments should criminalise allowing workers to be exposed to substances that are known or should be known to be hazardous.
  • Workers, their families and their communities must have immediate access to an appropriate and effective remedy, which should be available from the time of exposure.
  • Workers or their families should not bear the burden of proving the cause of their illness or disability to access an effective remedy.

In addition, the International Labour Organization should recognise the right to safe and healthy work as a fundamental right along with the internationally recognised core labour standards.

It is estimated that one worker dies every 15 seconds from toxic exposure at work, while over 2,780,000 workers globally die from unsafe or unhealthy conditions of work each year. Occupational diseases account for 2.4 million (over 86 per cent) of total premature deaths. Approximately 160 million cases of occupational disease are reported annually. Inaction by states and businesses on this global public health crisis is estimated to cost nearly four per cent of global gross domestic product, or some US$3 trillion.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes: Link to the report

UN expert Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes