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  IMPLEMENTING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN AN ERA OF GLOBALISATION: THE TRADE UNION ROLE   TUAC STATEMENT TO OECD MEETING OF ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS  
April, 1998


 

Introduction and Summary 

1. CHANGE IS TOP PRIORITY: Growing evidence of Climate Change has made clear that the world’s environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate and that the implementation of effective programmes for change must become a top priority for OECD member countries. Yet, the widening inequalities of wealth and worldwide competition worsen the prospect for progress on sustainable development. 

2. DEMOCRATIZATION & REGULATION IS KEY: We share the concern expressed by the OECD Secretary-General's High Level Advisory Group on the Environment that the situation now requires urgent action. As a Major Group of Agenda 21, we recognize that Governments and Civil Society must be called upon to fully participate and that improved democratic participation within and among all sectors is the only means of ensuring a positive outcome. We also feel that a well enforced body of environmental laws and standards, combined with other instruments, is the only guarantee of effective change. 

3. ENGAGEMENT OF WORKERS POSSIBLE: We agree with the recent inter-sessional meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in stating that workers and trade unions must be involved in the full range of sustainable development debates and resulting implementation measures. Our concern for jobs is not only based on the need to promote full employment so as to eradicate poverty but also to enable workers to participate fully. Workers are both producers and consumers and our members work in every conceivable industrial activity. We are prepared to seek their engagement in making changes to the current patterns of production and consumption. 

OECD governments' measures to implement sustainable development must incorporate:  - Social and employment safeguards in proposed transition plans. Jobs will be affected, both due to the effects of environmental deterioration itself and to the measures to prevent or mitigate them. This requires a strategy for sustainable employment; 

- Market intervention through economic instruments and targeted regulation, such as eco-taxes as a means of providing cost-effective environmental protection measures; 

- A focus on workplaces as the hub of the production and consumption cycle. Workers must be empowered to fully participate in setting targets, monitoring activities and evaluating progress; and, 

- Trade and investment policies which ensure that competitive advantage is not gained at the expense of the environment, and labour standards. 

4. ALL STAKEHOLDERS MUST BE INVOLVED: The OECD must identify the challenges clearly, and engage all stakeholders in a mutually supporting programme of activities with well defined targets and time frames. 

Promoting Sustainable Employment 

5. POVERTY & UNEMPLOYMENT ARE BARRIERS: Development will be sustainable only if it includes "sustainable employment". Poverty and unemployment are diametrically opposed to the principles of Agenda 21. Not only does employment insecurity inhibit the type of worker participation which is essential to effective workplace change; it weakens the capacity of local institutions to promote and financially support implementation programmes. 

6. EMPLOYMENT AND THE TRANSITION FRAMEWORK: The OECD Secretary-General's High Level Advisory Group on the Environment has recognized the need to develop a vigorous policy framework for the transition to global sustainable development. The framework it recommends for the transition of economies must be guided by proper analysis of the employment impacts. The focus must be on ensuring good, environmentally sound jobs by changing production and consumption patterns at the workplace. This is particularly important in light of the High Level Group’s recommendation that a proper balance be sought between resource productivity and labour productivity. 

7. DISPLACEMENT OF WORKERS IN TRANSITION: Transition measures must protect workers displaced by environmental degradation. We believe the main reasons why Kyoto did not achieve more was that many workers saw little provision for compensation of job loss or displacement. We understand the complexities of developing adjustment funds to address this problem. Nevertheless, it is clear that no significant progress on climate change can be guaranteed without integrating employment concerns into transition programmes. 

8. THEMATIC REVIEW NECESSARY: The OECD's strategic policy framework, recommended by the High Level Advisory Group must incorporate a thematic review of issues related to jobs and environment. Trade unions must be involved in such a review and it must seek to understand the employment and environmental consequences of the following:  - Green Public Works Programmes, especially in areas of high unemployment and industrial decline; 

- Strengthened environmental regulations and standards with improved monitoring and enforcement; 

- Natural resource taxes and levies as a means promoting environmental technologies and the services industry (especially after ecological tax reform takes place); 

- Tradeable Permits: a thorough evaluation of the unwanted effects and potential benefits must be assessed; 

- Technology change and transfer provisions which foster more labour intensive practices; 

- Desirable investments in areas such as public transport infrastructure. 

Social Distribution and Integration 

9. FUNDING FOR TRANSITION: The funding for transition must be supported by economic instruments which provide necessary financing on the one hand, and impose barriers to environmentally-damaging production on the other. In recent studies, the OECD has identified the major instruments being employed in member countries: i.e., charges and taxes, marketable permits, deposit refund systems, and environmental subsidies and we see a role for each. However, any negative impacts of measures on employment and other social factors must be well understood so that implementation strategies minimize social costs. 

10. IMPORTANT ELEMENTS TO FINANCIAL MECHANISMS: Support for these measures will be strengthened if they:  - Form part of an overall sustainable development strategy, including for green job creation; 

- Are not allowed to co-exist with subsidies which have the effect of promoting pollution or poor environmental practice; 

- Serve to address clearly identified problems and not merely generate revenue; 

- Do not contribute to higher levels of unemployment, underemployment or poverty; 

- Ensure that revenues are properly redirected so as to promote environment, employment and economic development, together, in a coherent way, including for measures to compensate for regressive effects on income distribution and social factors; 

- Are fully transparent, especially where earmarking, or hypothecation, is concerned; 

- Are properly monitored and fully enforced so as to avoid illegal dumping practices; 

- Are levied on production, substances or resource uses for the purposes of promoting recycling, waste reduction or improved efficiency. 

11. SYSTEMATIC EVALUATION NEEDED: OECD studies have concluded there has been little systematic evaluation of the performance of economic instruments. Given the pressing nature of the environmental challenges we face, it is crucial that such studies be conducted as soon as possible, especially with a view to establishing both the employment impacts and their environmental effectiveness in changing patterns in favour of better production and consumption patterns. 

The Workplace: A Springboard to Environmental Quality 

12. HEALTH & SAFETY TOOLS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT: The array of health and safety tools, techniques and skills that workers and trade unions in OECD countries posses must be utilized to help reach beyond the workplace, into the community. The capacity trade unions have built up in the area of occupational health and safety should serve as a model for workplace-based environmental action throughout the world. Workers and trade unions can do much to help identify production related problems, monitor their effects, keep records and develop responses. 

13. RIGHT TO INFORMATION: The Issues Paper for the Ministerial meeting recognizes the role of trade unions in both articulating the concerns about the social impacts of policies and in designing and implementing them. To facilitate trade union involvement employers must be encouraged to share relevant information with workers, their unions and civil communities as a means of fostering trust and cooperation in the workplace. The "Right-to-Know" is a provision that has been negotiated into a growing number of collective agreements. The right to know the environmental impacts of products and processes, the right to independent advice and the right to be consulted on the environmental strategies of employers is increasingly recognized. Some countries have provided leadership by promulgating legislation and regulations including provisions related to the use of hazardous materials. 

14. TRADE UNION AGREEMENTS: We have shown (see Appendix) how trade unions have worked through collective agreements, joint committees and a wide variety of other agreements which have led to effective and long lasting change. Positive results have been facilitated by the acceptance of two further key provisions which have been negotiated into collective agreements:   . "Whistle-blower" protection, in which workers have the right to report environmental violations to the authorities without risk to their employment. In some cases it allows such reports only after the employer has failed to act on specified "notice" provisions. 

 . "Right-to-Refuse" work which is believed to pose an imminent danger to health and safety. This is reflected in legislation in a great many countries and jurisdictions, and includes provisions which prohibit any retaliation or threat of discipline. Extending this right to refuse work that is dangerous to the environment would add further impetus to the capacity of workers to make change. 

15. COORDINATED ACTION IN COMMUNITIES: In addition, workplace activities must be coordinated with communities where workers live, meeting the targets of local authorities and regional governments. We support the proposal for a multi-stakeholder process involving trade unions, industry and NGOs on sustainable development issues within the OECD. However, in order to ensure positive outcomes, the process must facilitate the implementation of programmes and strengthen partnerships. The OECD Task Force for the Implementation of the Environmental Action Programme in Central and Eastern Europe (EAP) is a good example that needs to be encouraged. Through the development of Cleaner Production Centres the Task Force has recommended the fostering of partnerships with all sectors as a means of developing widespread support for cleaner production programs. 

16. OECD MUST BE A LEADER: The OECD can serve as a catalyst and play a leadership role for change in the workplace by actively promoting stakeholder participation by :  - Strengthening workplace mechanisms that yield successful results; e.g., green clauses in collective agreements, joint workplace committees; 

- Promoting joint employer/trade union design and implementation of workplace eco-audits as joint corporate environmental policy objectives, i.e. for target-setting, record-keeping, and evaluating of progress; 

- Reviewing current regulatory mechanisms affecting environment and labour with a view to promoting and strengthening agreements among stakeholders; 

- Promoting improved coordination among government Ministries, including with Ministries of Labour, so as to ensure effective participation of employers and trade unions in workplace target-setting and reporting mechanisms and to ensure integration of industrial relations and occupational health and safety into the mix of defined solutions; 

- Providing for improved coordination of information demonstrating good practice across the various sectors and within OECD countries; 

- Working to strengthen the CSD (UN Commission on Sustainable Development) by promoting the development of national workplace targets and reporting mechanisms and by involving trade unions in national sustainable development activities, including their participation in the country delegations attending the CSD. 

17. LABOUR GUIDELINES AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT INDICATORS: The OECD can lead the process whereby the advantages of cooperation between unions and employers are illustrated as "best practice" and are used to foster a positive collective bargaining climate. We seek the assurance that common labour guidelines will apply equally in all countries and across all sectors. The OECD, in cooperation with the ILO, should undertake a survey of green agreements within multinational enterprises and SMEs with a view to establishing guidelines and minimum requirements for the involvement of workers and their trade union representatives. The ILO has developed a system of international labour standards and sustainable development indicators which serve as guidelines for legislation on sustainable development and as a stimulus for action on human rights, working conditions, social security and occupational health and safety. A review of these indicators is recommended for application within OECD countries. 

18. A PROGRAMME FOR ACTION: Finally, the OECD must adopt a concrete programme of action to involve workers and all social partners in the process for change. For workers and trade unions to be involved, such a programme must include the following elements:  - A priority list of target issues; the High Level Advisory Group’s suggested list of resource efficiency, energy conservation, and pollution abatement should be expanded to include environmental protection in general; 

- A commitment to develop training and education programmes as a means of empowering workers to participate and coordinate activities across all sectors of industrial activities; 

- The identification of simple and inexpensive improvement measures as a way of building on successes. It is significant that a recent report produced for the OECD Climate Change Forum suggested that a "bottom up" to energy-efficiency measures could potentially reduce CO2 by up to 30%; 

- A process to facilitate joint stakeholder decision making, coordination and implementation, locally and internationally; 

- A commitment to promoting cleaner technology, backed up with research and development on innovative investments. 

The International Obligations of the OECD 

19. INTERNATIONAL COORDINATION NECESSARY: Efforts to deal with Climate Change provide convincing proof that environmental problems must be addressed internationally for effective local implementation measures to take effect and to avoid the potentially damaging consequences of companies or nations seeking to gain a competitive advantage at the expense of the environment, employment or economic development. The non-OECD world is, correctly, looking for leadership and commitment from the OECD. 

20. CHEMICAL HARMONIZATION: This is especially evident in the area of chemical classification and harmonization of substances. The OECD is currently coordinating the implementation of Chapter 19 of Agenda 21 and is in a position to develop and promote mechanisms which facilitate environmental improvements both within and beyond the OECD countries. 

21. TAX HARMONIZATION AND COMMUNICATION: In like manner there is a need for a well harmonized green tax regime so as to ensure that measures in one country do not counteract the measures adopted by another. Similarly, there is a need for international coordination of activities and information on environment and for the coordination of technology transfer from OECD countries. The OECD must continue to play an active role in these areas. 

22. ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS: Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and targets relating to environmental protection and trade must be fully translated into national and local law and must not conflict with sustainable development transition measures, or undermine basic environment and labour standards. Minimum standard provisions should not have the effect of replacing higher standards in countries where they exist by reducing them to a lowest common denominator. Agreements should promote the strengthening of existing standards wherever possible. 

23. THE MULTILATERAL AGREEMENT ON INVESTMENT: It is now clear that negotiations at the OECD to conclude a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) will not meet the deadline of the April 1998 Meeting of the OECD Council of Ministers. Whatever the future of the MAI, OECD governments must learn the lessons from this failure. Paramount here is that the granting of legally binding rights and protection for investors must be matched with reciprocal rights covering workers and the environment. Among other things, this includes a binding clause in the MAI committing governments not to lower or not enforce domestic and internationally agreed labour standards and environmental standards in order to attract investment. This is a key issue in the domestic debate on the ratification of any emerging Agreement. The OECD must now begin without delay the Review of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Review should ensure that the Guidelines conform with the requirements of sustainable development as contained in Agenda 21 and produce a substantively improved Chapter on Environmental Protection. Above and beyond this, a renewed initiative needs to be taken to ensure the promotion and implementation of the Guidelines. 

24. COMMON BUT DIFFERENTIATED RESPONSIBILITIES: The OECD must also recognize the urgent need for developing countries to fight poverty. Assistance must be provided to these countries to adjust to the economic, social, environmental, and health costs of environmental protection and the cost of environmental degradation. Sustainable production in the non-OECD countries will not become a reality unless they are able to meet basic social and economic development objectives. A world-wide programme of action is, therefore, needed to promote employment as means of combating poverty and implementing sustainable development goals. Finally, the commitment made at Rio in 1992 for common but differentiated responsibilities of the countries signing the Declaration should be revisited and renewed. 

Appendix Trade Union Initiatives in Environmental Protection (A few examples)

Environmental protection is emerging as a priority for the world’s trade unions, and many have already broken new ground with initiatives which show how progress can be achieved when workers and their unions are involved. In the process, they have altered traditional workplace relations and expanded their role in the community. The following are illustrative of some of the forms these initiatives have taken: 

In Argentina, the National Civil Personnel Union (MUPCN), in partnership with the National Civil Personnel Mutual, launched a reforestation project as means of recycling carbon dioxide, creating employment and generating $4 million annually for a Mutual Plan retirement fund that will yield an extra $150/month in pension earnings per worker. 

In Brazil, negotiations between the country's chemical industry and its unions have resulted in an agreement that provides detailed guidelines and procedures for the environmental control of benzene involving workers and their unions. The Benzeno Accordo established a Permanent National Commission on Benzene in which workers, employers and government participate equally in decision-making. 

In Canada, the Canadian Automotive Workers (CAW) has negotiated Cleaner Production provisions into collective agreements with the motor industry, involving 50,000 workers in 30 plants, as well as supplier and parts manufacturers. Joint union-management action has reduced worker and environmental exposure to many substances through a process of substitution. 

In the Czech Republic, the Czech Mine, Geology and Oil Industry Workers' Union (OS PHGN), assisted by Cornell University, has launched a project which employed eco-audits and a "train the trainers" program to build environmental awareness, beginning with its 120,000 members, and through them, some 400,000 family and community members. 

In Denmark, the Danish Union of Graphical Workers (Grafisk Forbund) has concluded a framework agreement with the Danish Graphical Employers' Association to promote cleaner production in the industry. The National Agency of Environmental Protection has financially supported low-cost action involving small employers to clean up production and promote employment. 

In Eritrea, leaders of the newly-formed National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) used ILO Worker Education materials in discussions on sustainable development at all levels in their country. As a result, Health, Safety and Environment committees are being established, members are being trained and agreements are being negotiated throughout the new country. 

In Germany, the Union of Construction, Agriculture and Environment concluded an "ecological collective" agreement in 1994 with an association of companies providing environmental industrial services. The German Food Workers Union concluded another such agreement in 1996 which involved the Schumaker brewery company and in 1997 the Postal Workers Union concluded another environmental collective agreement involving the telecommunications sector. Also, the Chemical and Energy Workers' Union (IG BCE) has signed over 60 works agreements with employers which extend the activities of works councils beyond safety matters to strategic decision-making on the environment. 

In Ghana, the local Timber and Woodworkers Union (TWU) has established a tree nursery, wood lots and teak plantations. Based on the success of initial reforestation efforts, the union is currently planning to expand its reforestation and environmental awareness programmes. 

In Hungary, local trade unions at the Tisza Chemical plastics complex (TVK) have participated in a cleaner production programme to introduce an environment management system that meets the requirements of ISO 14000. A waste management programme has reduced energy demand and industrial water consumption, as part of an effort to clean up the river Tisza, which flows near the plant. 

In India, the West Bengal Cha Mazdoor Sabha is working for amendments to the Plantations Labour Act to improve protection and training for tea workers exposed to agro-chemical hazards, especially as they affect drinking water supply. It has also organised study sessions and produced public information materials on the environmental and health issues associated with tea plantations. 

In Japan, the regional Osaka organisation of the national trade union centre (RENGO) organized a public campaign to clean up the polluted Yamato River. Union members took water samples, carried out fact-finding surveys, collected signatures for petitions, held education events for local residents, and engaged in negotiations with the mayors of affected communities. The All-Japan Water Supply Workers' Union (ZENSUIDO) is holding symposia throughout the country to educate members on water issues. 

In Norway the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO-Norway) has formed an "Environmental Forum" with the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature to promote environmental issues. LO-Norway also offers a yearly environmental prize for positive initiatives, the most recent prize going to a union in a manganese factory for helping to reduce zinc, manganese and sludge emissions. The Norwegian Union of Chemical Industry Workers has become a driving force in reducing workplace emissions by up to 90%. 

In the Philippines, an affiliate of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) negotiated an agreement with an association of industrial employers to establish an Observatory for Environmental, Health and Safety which operates through a bipartite decision making-process to determine environmental objectives and implementing targets. 

In Romania, the National Free Trade Union Confederation of Romania-Brotherhood (CNSLR-FRATIA) joined forces with local authorities, NGOs, some local businesses and educational institutions in a broad public education campaign to reduce sulphur dioxide, lead, zinc cadmium and fluoride emissions from local industries, which had polluted the air, ground and water. 

In Russia, the Inter-Regional Trade Union Organisation (IRTUO) and Yukos Oil have signed a collective agreement to promote the active participation of 110,000 members and the Union in the company's environmental protection programmes. Under the terms of the joint ecology agreement, union enterprise committees formulate and implement cleaner production objectives and targets. 

In Scotland, the Manufacturing, Science, Finance (MSF) has cooperated on an expanded number of environmental issues with the GEC Ferranti company - a large defence contractor. A Joint Office Committee on energy efficiency has been established in conjunction with consultations on redundancies to reduce the cost of overhead, promote recycling and save energy. 

In Spain, the Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CC OO), led a co-ordinated effort by industry, environmental organisations, academics, researchers, as well as consumer and citizens' organisations, to draft and present a common proposal for an Action Plan on Climate Change to the Spanish Government. 

In Sweden, a national trade union centre for white-collar workers has introduced the "6E", a guide for integrating ecology and the work environment in everyday decision-making by all workers and employers, into several enterprises. The TCO’s 6E label is a symbol of "Responsible Practice," signifying total environmental integration of the external and internal workplace environments, and may be awarded to a complete operation, or just one part of it. 

In the United Kingdom, a trade union in a Coca Cola-Schweppes Beverages plant has agreed to support a Cleaner Production programme to save energy, water and materials. Savings of $3 million have resulted in in one year, producing a $1,500 bonus for each employee. Most of the CP measures involved simple housekeeping measures, involving little or no cost or job loss. 

In the United States, the United Steelworkers of America (USMA) engaged in a co-operative programme with the Republic Engineered Steel Co. in which action on over 1,000 cost-saving and environmental suggestions brought forward by employees has already resulted in savings of about $45 million. 

 Internationally, the TUAC and ICFTU have steadily expanded their work on specific campaigns with NGO's and international agencies to integrate health and safety with the environment in such areas as chemicals, eco-auditing, child labour, toys, and international standards. Their participation at the CSD with international business groups and NGO’s has highlighted the vital contribution which workplace partners can make to international efforts to finally meet the challenge of Agenda 21. 

Source: TUAC and the ICFTU Background Papers prepared for the Sixth Session of the CSD, 20 April – 1 May, 1998. 
 

 
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