Johannesburg, 26 August – 4 September 2002


By the TUAC Secretariat

Trade unionists were present at the World Summit on Sustainable Development with two objectives: - firstly, to push forward the broad agenda of sustainable development agreed at Rio ten years earlier, especially as it relates to workplace implementation, through the world of work and the role of workers and trade unions; and secondly, to achieve recognition of the need to strengthen the social pillar of sustainable development through employment creation and concrete integration measures.

With regard to the first objective, like others we are conscious of the limited achievements of the summit, especially with respect to environmental measures and targets. With the exception of the important new commitment on the sanitation target to halve the number of the world’s poor without access to clear drinking water by 2015, the Summit Implementation Plan is an eclectic mix of past commitments, which have still to be acted on by governments. In the words of President M’Beki of South Africa “What was agreed upon at Johannesburg should not be accepted as a ceiling. People are expected to go beyond what was agreed here.” In this respect the Summit did provide the basis for raising workplace issues as part of the tools for addressing sectoral isssues for WEHAB (Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture & Biodiversity).

With regard to the second objective, the trade unions sought to fill the huge gap that has been the social pillar of sustainable development since Rio in 1992. Here, despite some setbacks we did make progress and trade unions emerged from Johannesburg in a better position to work with other stakeholders for more effective integration  of all three pillars of sustainable development, through agreed implementation tools and a new mandate for the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Distilling some of the elements of the WSSD Plan of Implementation (PI) and the Johannesburg Declaration (JD) it is important to note that governments committed themselves to:-

-        Integrate all three pillars of sustainable development in implementing WSSD outcomes. The interdependence of social and economic development and environmental protection and particularly poverty reduction is a recurring theme in both documents. The Implementation Plan also pledges urgent action to “Support the International Labour Organisation and encourage its ongoing work on the social dimension of globalization” (PI 45d);

-        Provide assistance “at all levels” to increase “income-generating employment taking into account the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work” as part of the commitment to sustainable development (PI 9b, JD 25). This ILO Declaration provides for the respect of a body of core labour standards, which incorporate freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, non-discrimination in employment, and the prohibition of forced and child labour

-        Promote as part of the wider action to change unsustainable consumption and production patterns, “workplace-based partnerships and programmes, including training and education programmes” (PI 17d), “use a range of partnerships --- amongst Governments, intergovernmental organizations, mining companies and workers, and other stakeholders, to promote transparency and accountability for sustainable mining and minerals development” (PI 44a).The document also provides for the linking of production and consumption through information tools (eg  ecolabels) that reflect “human health and safety aspects” PII 14c-e);

-        Protect the health and safety of workers and in particular “Strengthen and promote ILO and WHO programmes to reduce occupational deaths, injuries and illnesses, and link occupational health with public health promotion” (PI 46 m), “enhance maritime safety” (PI 33) and “Protecting the health of workers and promoting occupational safety by inter alia taking into account as appropriate the voluntary ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS and the world of work, to improve conditions of the workplace (PI 48c);

-        Take “immediate and effective measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour” and “implement strategies for the elimination of child labour that is contrary to accepted international standards” (PI 11) and take action at all levels to eliminate “ all forms of violence and discrimination against women” (PI 6d);

-        Recognize measures for corporate accountability and the strengthening of government roles by taking action “at all levels” to “Actively promote corporate responsibility and accountability, based on the Rio Principles, including through the full development and effective implementation of intergovernmental agreements and measures, international initiatives and public-private partnerships, and appropriate national regulations, and support continuous improvement in corporate practices in all countries” (PI 45);

There was failure to make progress on recognition of the link between human rights, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.  Language on this and labour rights in particular was resisted by a few members of the Group of 77 – showing that much work still needs to be done to achieve full recognition of the rights based approach to development.

Another major track in the WSSD was the registering of “type two partnerships”. In the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “This Summit represents a major leap forward in the development of partnership” -- in the form of partnership initiatives by and between governments, civil groups and businesses. Officials said more than 220 partnerships, worth $235 million in resources, were identified during the Summit process to complement government commitments and many more were announced outside of the formal Summit proceedings. Some union organizations are active partners in such agreements – the International Transport Workers Federation partnership with Greenpeace against flags of convenience is just one example. There was also growing support for the “workplace assessments programmes” that trade unions proposed at the Summit and this provides potential for establishing new frameworks for action with the ILO, UNEP, WHO, OECD and other intergovernmental bodies, including the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). Elsewhere we have to monitor the quality of initiatives and campaign to make sure that governments do not retreat from their legitimate responsibilities.

In sum some 400 trade unionists from all parts of the world became involved in Johannesburg and this reflected a new awareness of the fact that trade union objectives for basic rights, decent work and development have to be an integral part of the agenda for sustainable development. It also represented recognition by the workers and their trade unions that we have to engage at all levels – but particularly with employers at the workplace level to bring about needed change.

At the international level a renewed mandate was given by the WSSD to the Commission on Sustainable Development in which the role of trade unions, as a major group, is also recognized. Our goal must now be to ensure that the multi-stakeholder process leads to concrete follow up .over the next decade. In the words of Kofi Annan “We have to go out and take action. This is not the end, it is the beginning.”


    Back to top