Texte français



February, 1996

Introduction and Summary

  1. Current production and consumption patterns are not sustainable, and unless the industrialised countries take more concerted action to remove the barriers to eco-efficiency the situation will worsen. The list of environmental problems associated with the growth in production and consumption is increasing. Air, water, and soil pollution all continue to threaten the earth's fragile eco-system, making life intolerable in many parts of the world. Global poverty and unemployment is meanwhile increasing in line with population growth. The working environment is also suffering and the number of workplace accidents, injuries and occupational illnesses is rising at an alarming rate.
  2. These developments must add to the sense of urgency for action to shift production and consumption patterns onto a sustainable path. Yet, in many areas action seems gridlocked. Falling growth rates, unemployment, widening inequalities of wealth and competitive pressures make environmental change more difficult, not easier. The momentum for change slows. The OECD countries have a responsibility to overcome the obstacles to sustainable growth and to lead the way in environmental stewardship. This is the most important message that can be given to the non-OECD countries.
  3. Moving forward on the agenda for sustainable growth requires the OECD countries to widen the policy approach beyond pollution control and abatement. It is particularly important that policies for sustainable growth address the social and employment effects of changing production and consumption patterns. In particular, a common strategy of sustainable employment is needed to show workers how sustainable production can achieve the "triple dividend" of employment growth, environmental protection, and lasting wealth creation.

  4. Shifting to sustainable production and consumption requires the active involvement of the public and closer cooperation between industry, trade unions, non-governmental organisations and government. A new "partnership for change" needs to be developed. Trade unions have the experience and expertise at the workplace, where enabling action by employers and government can help them engage their membership in strategies of sustainable production. Examples of good practice are appearing in collective agreements and in company level initiatives in different OECD countries. However, changes in environmental protection and management need to be extended far beyond the "good practice" enterprises to the bulk of work places. The trade union movement provides a unique channel for making progress.
  5. The OECD Ministerial meeting must both give a strong impulse to the implementation of agreements already reached and to achieving action on a forward-looking strategy for sustainable production and consumption. The OECD should also act more as a catalyst for change internationally and seek to develop its own environmental agreements of a binding nature. The further integration of environmental policy instruments with economic and social policies, and the strengthening of partnerships for change both inside and outside the workplace must be central objectives. A strategy of sustainable production and consumption should also be based on five essential points :
  6. that basic environment standards and basic labour standards must not be undermined by competitive pressure from the global trade and investment system. The OECD Ministerial Meeting should give a clear signal to the World Trade Organisation on this and countries should ratify and implement Multilateral Environment Agreements (§ 6­8) ;
    that policies for sustainable production and consumption should be linked to a strategy for sustainable jobs which maximises the employment gains and minimises the costs from environmental action. The OECD should undertake a thematic review on "sustainable employment" (§ 9-14) ;
    that the social costs and benefits of environmental protection and management and in particular the use of economic instruments should be fully assessed and any negative distribution and employment effects offset on an equitable basis (§ 15-18) ;
    that a new "partnership for change" includes strategies for environmental management at the workplace which involve workers and their trade union representative, and that effective participation is based on the "right to know" and the "right to influence" (§ 19-24) ; and
    that environmental strategies fully integrate work place health and safety issues and ensure that these are not undermined by deregulation (§ 25-27).

Global Issues

  1. Global environmental problems now present a serious threat to the livelihoods and health of future generations. The ozone layer is seriously damaged and the International Panel on Climate Change has now concluded that global warning is a reality. The OECD's work makes clear the need for preventative action and coordinated policies to address the problems of trans-boundary pollution and global resource depletion. This message is echoed by other leading international organisations such as the Commission on Sustainable Development and the United Nations Environment Programme, and by the international trade union movement. However, progress in translating the agreements of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 programme into action has been slow, and trade unions are concerned that the necessary political momentum is lacking. A further strengthening of cooperation among nations and new partnerships for sustainable growth between the countries in the developed world and those in the "South" is needed.
  2. As a result of the intensity of industrial production and consumption in the industrialised world, OECD countries are responsible for much of the world's pollution and resource use. The OECD countries therefore have a lead responsibility in environmental stewardship, and must demonstrate a greater willingness to help the developing countries adjust to the economic, social, environmental, and health costs of costs of environmental protection. It will not be possible to promote sustainable production in the non-OECD countries without meeting basic social and economic development objectives. Poverty and environmental degradation feed off each other. The OECD governments thereby must do more to enable developing countries to combat poverty, disease and social injustice and integrate the goal of sustainable development into these strategies.
  3. The OECD has a central role to play in ensuring that multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and targets relating to environmental protection and trade are fully translated into national and local law. Failure to enforce agreements and harmonise standards at the national/regional level has damaging consequences in terms of both national and company competitiveness. As global trade and investment pressures intensify it is all the more important to ensure the highest OECD standards of environmental management are maintained, and that competitive advantage is not gained at the cost of environmental degradation. The OECD should work to ensure that progress is made in the World Trade Organisation in advance of the Singapore Conference to guarantee the effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms of MEAs. It is essential that basic environmental standards and basic labour standards are protected from competitive pressures in the global trade and investment systems.

Sustainable Employment

  1. Trade unions have long argued that policies for sustainable development must go hand in hand with policies for sustainable employment. Faced with the prospect of growing unemployment, growing insecurity at work and environmental pressures for cleaner forms of production and distribution, trade unions are looking towards more sustainable patterns of employment growth and wealth creation.
  2. Whilst acknowledging that the pathways to sustainable development may imply considerable adjustment problems in the short term, the trade unions are firmly of the view that the net effect of sustainable development on employment, working conditions and the quality of work will be positive. However, urgent attention needs to be given to the analysis, anticipation and mitigation of potentially negative distributional and employment effects of environmental policies.
  3. There is not an inherent conflict or inevitable trade off between jobs and the environment. The experience of trade unions is that jobs are more at risk if employers fail to anticipate and adapt to change, and where governments resist integrating environmental policies with labour market strategies. Those countries and firms who will benefit most are those who have strengthened the linkages between environmental policies and employment and who have invested in pollution control, environmental technology, and environmental skills training.
  4. The world market for environmental products and services is currently worth over $250bn and is growing at 6-8% a year. The industry is already a significant generator of jobs, and this could increase substantially as world markets expand. However, the environmental industries in the majority of OECD countries are underdeveloped and concentrate on "end of pipe" technologies. The few countries with mature environmental industries are those which have more stringent environmental legislation and requirements, and where governments actively enforce environmental regulations and support private investment for pollution abatement and control equipment through public expenditures and public procurement. Much more can be done to stimulate "green" job growth. Greater government support should be given to the growth of the environmental technologies and services industry - including green consumer products, renewable energies and environmental biotechnologies.
  5. Trade unions have also been campaigning for increased public investment in "green" public works programmes, especially in areas of high unemployment and industrial decline. A number of OECD countries have launched successful local and regionally based environmental clean-up and conservation schemes targeted to provide opportunities for the young and long-term unemployed. There are also precedents in the form of regional and structural funds that, if directed towards environmental improvement, could create jobs and improve the environment. However, the inability of governments to quantify the societal benefits from public investment in projects which create employment and improve the local environment remains a major barrier to the funding of such schemes.
  6. The extent, and costs and benefits of the linkages between environmental policies and employment need to be better understood and quantified, not least to enable public policy makers to integrate their policy proposals with a greater degree of certainty and precision. The OECD Jobs Study did not deal with this issue but the opportunity should now not be lost in the follow-up. The OECD should undertake a "Thematic Review" on "Jobs and the Environment". This should investigate more fully :
    1. the direct/indirect employment effects of more stringent environmental regulations and standards, and the employment costs of failing or delaying environmental improvements ;
    2. the employment opportunities and quality of employment in the environmental technologies and services industry ;
    3. the "double dividend" potential available from "green" public investment projects ;
    4. the macro/micro employment effects of substituting taxes on labour with taxes on natural ressources ;
    5. the need to support environmental skills training and retraining ; and
    6. the benefits of alternative methods of financial accounting which measure better environmental externalities and thereby could give a higher premium to "green" job creation.

Economic Instruments

  1. Intervention in markets through economic instruments, such as eco-taxes, can provide a cost-effective market-based push to environmental protection. However, they are not panaceas and need to be used in support of, and in addition to, regulations and other policy tools based on the "polluter pays principle". The use of economic instruments should allow prices to more accurately reflect long-term resource costs and security of supply. The lack of full cost accounting of resource inputs is a major barrier to environmental improvement. A much more concerted effort by governments is therefore needed to develop standardised accounting conventions which quantify and measure environmental externalities.
  2. OECD work has shown that economic instruments can have significant regressive social and distributive effects. A precondition for the use of such instruments must be that the negative effects are calculated, and fully offset by counteracting measures. The social costs of changes should be shared equitably and the revenues gained from market-based measures should be used to compensate for any regressive effects on income distribution and for environmental purposes. The failure to implement socially acceptable "flanking" policies seriously reduces the acceptability of economic instruments. Full consultation with all those affected in the design and monitoring of such instruments is therefore essential.
  3. Economic measures will also not have a desired effect unless environmentally/socially acceptable substitutes for products and services are available which allow a change in consumer's behaviour. This is particularly evident with regard to transport policy where disincentives to private transport need to be matched by an efficient, convenient and price competitive public transport system. Governments also have a major responsibility to bring forward environmentally desirable investments in areas such as public transport infrastructure. Accurate consumer information and general awareness raising are also vital to changing consumer behaviour, and trade unions have a shared objective with business, government and non-governmental organisations to promote sustainable patterns of consumption.
  4. TUAC welcomes the OECD's work on tax reform for substituting taxes on labour with taxes on environmental resources and consumption. However, eco-taxes are not a panacea and scepticism remains as to the feasibility of wholesale tax switching. In particular, trade unions are concerned about the negative employment and income effects of new taxes, their effect on national competitiveness without multilateral agreements, the difficulties of achieving "fiscal neutrality", and whether environmental resources provide a long-term stable tax base. Despite these reservations it is recognised that the present fiscal and regulatory systems often give perverse price signals which restrict innovation and deter long-term environmental investments. The overemphasis in financial decision-making on labour costs as opposed to resource use is also an obstacle to sustainable production. It is important therefore to examine more the effectiveness of tax programmes that have been developed in certain OECD countries, and to explore the employment aspects of eco-tax reform in more detail as already indicated.

Environmental Action at the Workplace

  1. As part of a wider "partnership for change" trade unions, reflecting both the workplace and the wider interest of their members, have a unique role to play in developing and implementing joint strategies of sustainable production and consumption. The first step in engaging the workforce must be for management to fully involve workers and their trade union representatives. Dialogue between the social partners on workplace initiatives all too often occurs at a time of crisis. In order to build a relationship of trust and commitment discussions with trade unions on workplace projects should start as early as possible and continue.
  2. Consensus will be lacking when decisions are made in secret or conflicting information is produced. The "right to know" is essential for active partnership and should extend from the workplace to individual consumers and local community. In particular, workers and their trade union representatives should have the right to know the environmental impact of the products and processes they are using and producing, together with the right of access to independent advice and the right to be consulted on the environmental strategies and planning of their company. This in turn necessitates the protection of "whistle blowers" within a company. In most OECD countries trade unionists have the right in theory to refuse to undertake work with potentially harmful health and safety effects, and to report health and safety problems to the appropriate authorities without jeopardising their contract of employment. Similar legal protection for workers and their trade union representatives should be applied to workplace environmental problems.
  3. For workers to contribute to solutions which can improve the environmental performance of companies they have to be granted the rights and means to participate, and not just obligations. The right to negotiate changes in production and work organisation, and the right to propose changes and not just react, form the foundations of green collective agreements and the basis of trade union partnerships with employers. However, these basic enabling rights will only be as effective as the extent to which they are applied practically. One important focus for direct, practical trade union involvement is on company eco-auditing, which has increased in almost all OECD countries and is viewed by many companies as an effective means of assessing and managing environmental performance. The confidence and cooperation of the workforce is an essential requirement of any eco-audit, and trade unions have an important contribution to make in the audit design, implementation and report process. Trade unions also have an equally important role to play in drawing up corporate environmental policy targets and objectives, and in helping to set and monitor workplace eco-standards.

Trade Union Initiatives in Environmental Protection

In three years since Rio, environmental protection has become a priority for the trade union movement and unions have broken ground with initiatives which highlight the involvement of workers and their unions. In the process, they have altered traditional workplace relations and have expanded their role in the community. Cases such as the following are illustrative of some of the breakthroughs :

In Germany, chemical workers have concluded over 60 agreements that go beyond the mandate of works councils to provide workers with information, training, participation, and even codetermination on environmental matters.
In Zimbabwe, an initiative by two public sector unions with assistance of the ILO involved communities in an extensive process of social research and social dialogue directed at environmental problems and services. Follow-up activities with local authorities, government and NGO's are providing the basis for problem-solving and future programmes.
An Eco-Audit project carried out in 10 tourist enterprises in Finland illustrated the efficacy of the eco-audit mechanism for promoting objectives of sustainable development. It showed how economic efficiencies can be achieved through proper environmental management that involves employees and their trade unions.
In the U.S.A., the Laborers' International Union have developed a model for training and partnerships with contractors and government agencies for projects related to hazardous material removal, which is now being applied to Central and South America and Central and Eastern Europe.
In Sweden, the white-collar national trade union centre has launched the "6E", a guide for integrating considerations relating to the ecology and the work environment in everyday decision-making by everyone involved in the enterprise.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has joined with the country's leading environmental organization to initiate a nation-wide program of partnership with industry, governments and the community to identify and develop "green" jobs that either benefit the environment directly, or provide a less harmful alternative to current practices.
On an international level, the ICFTU has been actively working with NGO's and international agencies on specific campaigns that link health, safety and the environment in such areas as chemicals, eco-auditing, child labour, toys, and international standards. It is working with international business groups at the CSD, to highlight the role of the workplace partners in meeting Agenda 21 objectives.

Source: International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) preparatory material for forthcoming CSD meeting.

  1. Many multinational companies take a positive approach to green collective bargaining and actively encourage trade union participation. However, trade unions have been dismayed to find that in some OECD countries multinational companies have been unwilling to involve the trade unions to the same extent as they have at plants in other countries. The reason often given for this is that the industrial relations climate in certain countries does not encourage trade union involvement on environmental issues. In addressing this problem the trade unions are seeking to ensure that trade union involvement is replicated in all of a multinational company's sites whatever their location, and that common guidelines apply. The emergence of European and international works' councils will help facilitate this and promote the spread of best practice. The incorporation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (which has an environmental chapter) into the Multilateral Agreement on Investment currently being negotiated in the OECD is essential. The OECD in cooperation with the ILO should undertake a survey of green bargaining within multinational enterprises with a view to establishing guidelines and minimum requirements for the involvement of workers and their trade union representatives on environmental issues.
  2. Trade unions, business and government have a shared responsibility to raise health and safety and environmental awareness among employees. In most OECD countries government "green" education and awareness raising campaigns ignore the workplace dimension and focus on individuals as citizens in their role as consumers, rather than workers. Education and information initiatives by companies, meanwhile, are largely aimed at management or for general public consumption, and are all too often merely public relations exercises.
  3. Trade unions in all the OECD countries provide information and educational materials and courses for their officials and members, and are aware of the need to do more. In a period of recession, rising unemployment and in some cases employers' hostility this is not easy. However, few OECD governments actively support trade union "green" education and training programme, and in most OECD countries trade unionists do not have rights of absence (as they have with health and safety matters) to attend education/training courses on environmental issues. Building on health and safety rights, workers and their trade union representatives should have the right to training and retraining on environmental issues, particularly where environmental actions affect the pattern of work.

Integrating Environment and Health and Safety

  1. Whilst environmental problems are not exclusive to the workplace, the interaction between the working and living environments extends to almost every sector of the economy and is at the heart of environmental management strategies. Action to reduce pollutants and hazards at the workplace, for example, has a positive impact on both the health and safety of workers and the local environment. Companies are beginning to recognise the crucial link between the working and living environments, and some of the large firms in "high risk" sectors are seeking to integrate health and safety policies with environmental management programmes. However, OECD governments have been slow to appreciate the importance of health and safety to pollution control, and are often resistant to using existing health and safety regulations and mechanisms to help with environmental monitoring and inspection.
  2. The trade unions have played a major role in developing joint workplace strategies which combine systems and procedures aimed at reducing pollution with the very best health and safety standards. However, the trade unions are concerned that attention to health and safety at work is sometimes compromised by environmental protection, and that resources are at risk of being diverted away from hazards prevention. Given the growth of workplace accidents and injuries in the OECD countries since the mid-1980s and the continued increase in the number of hazardous chemicals and materials, it is vital that improvements in environmental management are not made at the expense of workplace health and safety. An integrated and coordinated partnership approach to environmental protection is needed, which should build on the joint experience of management and trade unions in the field of occupational health and safety. The OECD should expand its work on hazards prevention and seek to develop guidelines and best practice on the integration of health and safety with environmental management and other risk management systems and practices. The TUAC welcomes the objective expressed in the OECD's Health and Safety Programme to improve partnerships with industry, trade unions and environmental groups and is ready to play an active part in this.
  3. The increase in workplace accidents and occupational injuries/disease is deeply disturbing. The OECD should therefore seek as a matter of urgency to implement the very best health and safety standards throughout the OECD countries. The OECD's Guiding Principles on the Prevention of Chemical Accidents should be strengthened and enforced. TUAC also strongly supports the need for the OECD to continue with its risk assessment and reduction programme for chemicals. Every effort should be made to secure a binding agreement to control chemical risks. Direct international regulations or negotiated agreements with producers should be based on the "precautionary" and "right to know" principles, and where substitutions of a chemical is proposed, a comparable assessment of the proposed substitutes should be carried out.

Return to index  Back to top