United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

Commission on Sustainable Development     Background Paper No. 10
Sixth Session
20 April - 1 May 1998

                     TRADE UNIONS AT CSD98
    International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
           Trade Union Advisory Council - OECD (TUAC)

This paper forms part of an integrated trade union document covering the four themes of the
"Business and Industry" Segment of the CSD. The paper was originally written with an
introduction and conclusion with each section flowing into each other in a logical manner. 

However, for the purposes of the CSD the sections of the paper have been regrouped to
accommodate printing of material into four sections.  What follows is the "Table of Contents"
of the original trade union paper, showing in which of the four printed sections its various
parts have been placed.

INTRODUCTION (Background Paper No. 2) 
Globalization of Production and Consumption
(Placed at the Beginning of the "Responsible Entrepreneurship" section) 

The introduction discusses the prospects of sustainable development in an era of globalization
and outlines the necessary climate for trade and investment which is needed to foster
"Responsible Entrepreneurship" or to enable management tools to yield measurable changes in
the workplaces of the world. It argues that International solutions for employment and
transition programs are necessary as a prerequisite to effective and local trade union

Part 1: MANAGEMENT TOOLS AND STRATEGIES (Background Paper No. 6)
The Trade Union Perspective on "Effective" Management Tools

Workers and their trade unions must be central to any meaningful change involving the
workplace. The section examines the way trade unions are currently working through joint
workplace mechanisms, including Eco-Audits as a means of extending advances in
occupational health and safety to environmental protection. The section looks at the need to
challenge ways of doing things in the workplace in communities.

Part 2: RESPONSIBLE ENTREPRENEURSHIP (Background Paper No. 2)
The Trade Union Perspective on "Responsible Leadership for Change"

A view of "Responsible Business Practice" is provided and explains why trade unions wish to
work with employers and governments in providing leadership for change. Responsible
practice recognizes the need for accountability and includes target-setting and reporting based
on criteria of trust, credibility, transparency, and applicability to smaller enterprises, as well as
the participation of workers and trade unions. It also must recognize a role for public policy
and government in promoting and supporting responsible leadership for change. 

The Trade Union Perspective on "Cooperation and Capacity Building"

The section explains the reasons why support for or resistance to certain types of technological
change occur depending on the purposes for which they are employed. There is a particular
focus on chemicals as an example where broad-based "capacity building" can occur. A the
trade union approach to assessing technology or technology transfer is reviewed and the
implications for employment and workers' well- being are highlighted. The key role of
training, education and information sharing are discussed.

Part 4: WATER AND CLEANER PRODUCTION (Background Paper No. 14)
A Practical Approach to the Problem of Water

This section looks at the workplace practicalities of addressing the problem of water and
outlines the challenges that are posed in addressing any issue from a workplace point of view.
The section deviates from others by avoiding theoretical discussions   about issues and looks at
"What Needs To Be Done" now in making progress on Water.  This discussion leads into Part
five (printed at the end of the water section) which reviews the implications of the trade union
approach on water for other pressing issues, including climate change.

(Included in the water section)

This section presents the challenges posed by working with trade unions and the reviews the
changes that are needed to make the workplace a central focus for sustainable development.
There is a need for cooperation in "workplace partnerships" if real change to the patterns of
production and consumption is to occur. The process for commencing the dialogue with
international business is outlined.

Commission on Sustainable Development     Background Paper No. 10
Sixth Session
20 April - 1 May 1998

    International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
          Trade Union Advisory Committee - OECD (TUAC)

1. Technology includes everything that humans have made and the processes whereby we use
them:  dwellings, factories, communication media, machinery, fibres, electronics, chemical
substances, as well as management strategies and knowledge.  All affect the workplace, the
people in it and the surrounding community and natural environment.


2. Support for and resistance to the introduction of technology has come from all sectors of
society, depending on the purposes for which it was introduced.  Trade union acceptance of
technological "solutions" will, therefore, depend upon our acceptance of and participation in the
approaches and decisions upon which they are based.  Historically, technology has been
introduced into the workplace to serve a few clearly identifiable purposes:

   (a)  Reduce labour costs and increase productivity;

   (b)  Eliminate wasteful and dangerous work functions;

   (c)  Increase the efficiency of operations, tools or methods.

        A.  Technology for the reduction of labour costs

3. The origins of the labour movement are very much intertwined with the introduction of
technology and technological processes that marshalled in the Industrial Revolution.  In this case,
technology and technological processes almost exclusively served the first function cited above;
i.e., reducing labour costs and increasing productivity.  In that era, technological change and
"factoryisation" resulted in inhuman working conditions, unsafe plants and the emergence of wage
employees, with a concomitant restructuring of industrial, economic and social relations
throughout the world.  The form of industrialisation is today recognised as unsustainable
development, and industrial workers organised in an effort to win sustainable, healthy workplaces
and communities.  They thereby became the first of the so-called "Non-Governmental
Organisations" in history to promote sustainable development. 

4. Today, wherever technology serves only to reduce labour costs, it still wreaks havoc. 
Added to the scourge of industrial pollution are mechanisation, continuous flow operations and
machine pacing.  By extending the length of the workday and intensifying the work process,
employers continue to increase the pace of work and reduce workers' skill requirements.  One
result, repetitive strain injuries (RSI), is today one of the most common occupational illnesses,
particularly amongst workers in offices and the service industry who work on electronic and
electrical assembly lines, encountering stress and intensified monitoring.

5. The most common negative impact of reducing labour costs through the introduction of
labour-saving technology is that when employment is lost and workers become unemployed or
under-employed, society must face the burden of extra costs, reducing its capacity to increase
expenditures to promote such objectives as sustainable development.  The main problem is that
the economic benefits of productivity gains due to the technology are not shared equally;
employers experience a proportional rise in profits, while workers suffer layoffs and cut-backs,
resulting in a host of negative impacts to sustainability, not the least of which is a rise in poverty.

6. Globalisation has merely aggravated this trend by creating an assembly line that is essentially
international in character.  It yields increased profits and other benefits to the head offices of
MNCs, many miles away from the locations in which workers toil for low wages and benefits, in
deplorable health and safety conditions, and where the prospect of unemployment means absolute
poverty or starvation.  New technologies are too often brought in through contractual
arrangements, such as direct investment into subsidiaries of MNCs, licensing agreements, or other
arrangements with local entrepreneurs, in which local and national needs are largely ignored.  Not
only is the resulting technological change either inappropriate or even damaging, returns on these
investments can also be excessive because of lucrative royalties, prices on tied imports or transfer
pricing in vertically integrated operations.

     B.  Technology for eliminating wasteful and dangerous
                      workplace practices

7. As previously indicated, productivity gains from the introduction of technology almost
exclusively as a means of reducing labour costs has resulted in the evolution of a very dirty,
dangerous and polluting international industrial system that we now recognise as unsustainable
production.  The poor conditions of work it created, historically, led workers to organise as a way
of forcing employers to make improvements by way of technological change focused on health
and safety.

8. Health and safety issues continue to motivate workers in organising workplaces. In short,
workers are the first victims of unsustainable practices, as evidenced in over 120 million
work-related incidents around the world, which kill more than 220,000 workers per year (over
500 per day) and injure many times that number.  In addition, between 65 and 160 million
workers contract diseases related to work.  And the sickness, pain and personal deterioration
which began at the workplace are soon manifested in the family, the community and most
persistently, in the eco-system.

9. The technological change needed to respond to this problem has, until very recently, been
viewed by employers as a cost that yielded little benefit in terms of productivity or profits. Now
that the danger of this "unsustainable form of production" has become more apparent and is
recognised by a greater portion of the population beyond the workplace, more people and
organisations are beginning to view the degradation of the natural environment as the extension of
poor workplace health and safety.  Thus, the demands by workers and trade unions for technology
to improve working conditions are being increasingly recognised by NGOs and communities as
similar to demands to improve technology for pollution abatement and pollution prevention.

10.  By the same token, objections from employers regarding the cost of this type of technology
are very similar to the debates about covering the costs of unemployment.  Both arise because the
benefits of technological change introduced to reduce labour costs (i.e., rates of profits) are not
shared, either with workers or with the community.  Workers lose their jobs and communities pay
the bills for the cleanup costs of pollution.  The benefits arising from the introduction of
environmentally friendly technology, on the other hand, are shared by all.

 C.  Technology which increases the efficiency of operations, 
                       tools and methods

11.  Trade unions recognise the need for technological change as contemplated in Chapter 34 of
Agenda 21.  Technological change can have positive effects when introduced as part of a
"solution" to social and environmental problems; e.g., increasing world food production or
instituting emission controls.  In general, the support for this type of technological change will
depend on the answer to a number of questions:

   (a)  How will it affect productivity and profits? 

   (b)  How will it affect the well-being of workers and their community?

   (c)  Who will assume the costs of developing the technology and its resulting impacts?

12.  Our experience with chemicals has repeatedly shown how technological change, which
promotes community well-being, improves productivity and reduces costs to both employers and
society, has a far greater chance of survival than change which does the opposite.  The way in
which parties resolve their differences about the uses of chemicals in workplaces may serve as a
guidepost for resolving more general concerns about technological change.

13.  The world is only now awakening to the effects of chemicals and processes through which
they are produced and employed.  Pesticides and herbicides have been an important part of the
global Revolution which has made it possible for people of the world to feed themselves and have
also served in the war against some of the most persistent diseases to plague humanity, such as
malaria.  However, almost three decades have passed since Rachel Carson first sounded the alarm
with her book, Silent Spring, and we are still learning of the long-term costs these technological
wonders continue to extract in human and ecological terms.

14.  A number of catastrophes have also served to remind us of the need for extreme care when
embracing chemical and technological "answers" to our problems.  In the wake of the Bhopal
tragedy, the ICFTU published a report outlining 14 trade union principles for the prevention of
chemical disasters.  In 1990, the ILO produced a Convention on Safety in the Use of Chemicals at
Work and another, in 1993, on the Prevention of Industrial Disasters.  The OECD countries
developed international guidelines for chemical accident prevention, preparedness and response. 
These were developed with the participation of the trade unions and illustrate the kinds of
practical responses that should follow proposals and recommendations provided to this Session of
the CSD.

                           IN BHOPAL

   The 1984 Catastrophe Highlights the Effects of Technological Change which
Denies the Rights of Workers and Communities

   In Bhopal, the chemical intermediate, methyl isocianate (MIC) was released, killing 2500
people in one night outside the plant.  Hundreds of thousands more suffered, and are
continuing to suffer, as a result of this fugitive emission.

   The ICFTU and ICEF published a report following a joint mission to investigate the
disaster that included a number of specific recommendations for preventing future
catastrophes.  In the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy, the Government of India yielded to
pressure from INTUC, HMS and other trade union bodies to revise the laws governing
Health, Safety and Environment.  Trade unions in the National Joint Committee with steel
industry employers now make joint decisions over problems and their remedies.

15.  The export and imposition of chemical "solutions" to other countries serves as an illustration
of one form of technology transfer.  Pesticides, for example, have become an indispensable fact of
life in the monoculture production of food that has been "imported" into many of the world's
developing economies by multinational food giants.  They form pacts with chemical giants, and
today, countries such as Malaysia are targeted for dumping of pesticides which are banned in
other countries.

16.  Pesticides pose risks at all stages: to farm workers, in processing plants, to consumers and to
local communities through the contamination of water supplies and the air, etc.  The World
Health Organisation estimates that pesticides alone cause 3 million cases of acute poisoning every
year.  The long-term effects of air and waterborne toxins are hard to predict, but the effect is
massive, as up to 90% of the pesticides used in farming evaporate into the air, and thousands of
tonnes fall into our water systems every year.  The same effects are true for the dumping of toxic
wastes, a shameful practice that shows complete disregard for the environment or the welfare of
people in the host country.

17.  Major risks are still posed by the approximately 100,000 chemicals currently in commercial
use and their potential impact on human health and the eco-system.  Much work still has to be
done on the production, use and control of some of the worst, such as Persistent Organic
Pollutants (POPs) and other endocrine disrupters.

 Principles Guiding Trade Union Engagement with Toxic Chemicals
   Trade unions have worked with sister organisations, environmental organisations and
public interest organisations in the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety to develop
the following principles governing chemical safety:

   The Right to Know:  Workers and the public must have a legal, globally harmonised
right to know names and hazards of the chemicals to which they are exposed.

   Protecting Our Children and the Environment:  Urgent action is needed to reduce or
eliminate the release into the environment of persistent organic pollutants and chemicals which
disrupt the human system and pose hazards to future generations.

   Pollution Prevention:  Reduce chemical hazards by substituting products and
introducing cleaner production technologies to eliminate pollution at the source.

   A Just Transition:  Any transition to cleaner production must protect employment and
the economic viability of communities, meet social and environmental needs and improve the
quality of life throughout the world.

   Appropriate Chemical Classification:  Classification of chemicals, and the information
provided to workers and the public, should be based on inherent properties of chemicals, not
on speculation about the risks they pose under presumed conditions.  Assessment must
maximise protection of human health and the environment.

   Best Practices:  Chemical classification, labelling and control must be based on best
practices in the world and written into internationally binding agreements, including trade
agreements, that strengthen worker and community rights and do not weaken existing
standards or inhibit development of higher standards in any country.

   Full Participation:  Health and safety can only be assured if workers and the public
participate in decision-making at all levels and are allowed the resources to participate fully in


18.  Workers' main concern with technological change in the workplace is how it will affect their
job, their health and the well-being of their community.  The answer is to develop a process
whereby workers are involved in these and related decisions at work and where the benefits of
improving productivity can be shared more equitably.  On the one hand, it must be clearly
demonstrated how the benefits of productivity gains will either protect their employment
prospects or serve to ensure their training and retraining in the long term.  On the other hand,
employers must recognise the financial gains of creating clean, safe working environments,
thereby enhancing labour efficiency and encouraging workers' willingness to produce quality
products and services.  Governments must also conduct and encourage more research into the
development of improved forms of technology to protect community and work environments
from further abuse. 

A.  Capacity-building:  The key role of training, education and information-sharing for the
           responsible use and transfer of technology

19.  Our approach to technology and its application is based upon notions of equity and
democracy.  The value of technology should not be measured in terms of narrow economic
efficiency, but rather in terms of employment, poverty alleviation, rational use of natural resources
and protection of the environment.  In other words, its aim must be to serve the needs of the
people in the host country, for food, pure water, shelter and employment, and also for
social-political ends such as self-reliance.

20.  This will only happen if everybody affected by technological change is included in the
decision-making.  This requires advance education in which local workers, union representatives
and local residents are given all of the necessary technical and scientific knowledge and properly
alerted to its potential impacts, including manuals and literature.  In the process, those importing
the technology must also be sensitised to the needs, aspirations and way of life of the recipient

21.  The emphasis in Agenda 21 on training to allow people to assess and manage technologies
and conduct environmental impact and risk assessments is exemplified in the Environmental
Action Programme (EAP) for Europe, which recognises education and information-sharing as key
components of Cleaner Production in Central and Eastern Europe.  Trade unions were involved in
an OECD Task Force, which found that lack of such training was one of the major barriers to
further involvement of workers.  They need evidence that environmental change can enhance
employment, strengthen health and safety, improve work conditions and increase their incomes.

22.  The Task Force also found a lack of knowledge about environmental action by trade unions
in other countries, as few unions have the resources to gather or disseminate this information. 
Education was, therefore, identified as the key to the success of Cleaner Production Centres and
included information dissemination and library/reference centre, training, consultant services for
firms such as on-site assistance (audits), support for governmental agencies and translation of key
documents.  For this reason, the EAP has adopted a focus on the creation of:

   (a)  An active core of CP advisors and trainers;

   (b)  A set of CP case studies, demonstration projects and model business plans;

   (c)  A functioning CP Centre or Centres;

   (d)  Training materials in the local language;

   (e)  Cleaner Production principles, included in university course curriculum, such as business
administration, engineering and economics;

   (f)  A monitoring framework and quality assurance.

23.  The Task Force also found a widespread mistrust of management, fear of unemployment and
poor communications, predictable wherever workers find themselves having to adapt to new
methods of work because of a "top-down" cost-reduction approach to change.

   B.  Taking charge of the employment effects of technology

24.  The promotion of technology as a cornerstone of economic growth must not proceed
without proper assurances that it will impact positively on employment.  True capacity-building
implies participation of workers through their trade unions, along with NGOs, local authorities
and governments.

25.  Numerous cases have shown that technological change, if co-ordinated properly and not just
to cut labour costs, can have a positive impact on jobs, allowing for an expansion of skills and
knowledge for sustainable development.  As trade unions have discovered in their experience with
health and safety, the application of technology to monitoring, reporting and enforcement
processes does not have to mean job losses.  With proper retraining, workers can fulfill new tasks
and provide essential feedback for improvements to technology, for enforcement procedures and
for national and international evaluations and compliance reports.

26.  Unions are democratic organisations, and their participation in efforts to introduce
technology in a responsible manner can mitigate negative effects on employment and the
environment. As the need for retraining and educational programmes is recognised, for instance,
unions can provide valuable input into the design of curricula for training in the workplace, as well
as in public institutions.  They can also use collective bargaining to negotiate training programmes
with their employers, as well as using their own educational facilities and programmes in an
overall strategy.

27.  This type of involvement is of particular importance in developing nations where technology
transfer is often promoted as a general "solution" to many problems, but instead has the effect of
replacing the local labour force with outside people and of over-riding local priorities and needs. 
As well, technological change has too often ignored any responsibility for informing or educating
the host population in order to empower them to deal with the new technology and its effects.

C.  Taking control of technology at the workplace and through international agreements

28.  The trade union view of technological change is well illustrated in our work on the
international harmonisation of chemical classification and safety, including chemical risk
assessment, classification and labeling of chemicals, information exchange, risk reduction,
management of chemicals and illegal trafficking of dangerous products.

29.  The ICFTU has been particularly active in the International Programme on Chemical Safety
(IPCS), where we participated in the creation of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety
(IFCS).  Workers and trade union perspectives are being provided for development of the
Harmonisation of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.  Hopefully this will result in standards
of chemical labeling and harmonised international information systems to benefit workers and the
public.  We believe that the International Labour Organisation, with its genuine tripartite structure
of workers, employers and governments, is the appropriate agency to review how this system
should be implemented.

                     III.  TWO CONCLUSIONS

30.  Workers and employers need a process to ensure that technological change is properly
assessed, introduced and reviewed at the level of production.  In some cases, this can occur within
existing structures; e.g., joint health, safety and environment or technological change committees. 
Where none exist, new processes and bodies would have to be created.  Where there is a union,
this should fall within the realm of collective bargaining.

31.  Organisations representing employers and trade unions at the international level must agree
on general guidelines and principles governing technological change and transition. These
guidelines must clarify the role of governments in training, education and transition measures.

                           IN SWEDEN
   The ILO National Review on Environment and World of Work Reveals Major Progress in
Awareness-raising and Education

   Local branches of the Metal Workers' Union launched a clean-up project on harmful chemicals in
enterprises in southern Sweden, in which health and safety delegates visited companies and recommended
measures to reduce environmental and health and safety risks.  Follow-up activities for the project have
now been initiated.

   The Industrial Union of Workers in the chemical industry participates in such local environmental
initiatives as "Eco-raise," sponsored by a chemical company, which has resulted in improved
environmental performance and energy efficiency.
   The Paper Workers' Union and the Swedish Pulp and Paper Association provide joint
environmental training on the paper and pulp industry, with material provided by the Union, in which
70% of the 30,000 employees attend "study circles" during which they receive regular wages.

   The Forest Workers' Union, in co-operation with employers' organisations and the Swedish
government, created a tripartite education programme that became part of the industry's sustainable
production process.  Employees become "environmental workers" who can combine the preservation of
flora and fauna with efficient production.

                        IN SOUTH AFRICA

   The Chemical Workers' Industrial Union formed a unified front with environmental and citizen
groups in informal settlements around Marconi Beam to force foreign owners of a refinery to take
responsibility for pollution resulting in asthma and respiratory ailments, as well as concern about the
possibility of fugitive releases of toxic substances.  A process of education about the refinery and the
laws governing it translated into greater power, as citizens learned their rights to a full and properly
conducted public process.

   Caltex had refused to take responsibility or action, or to release needed information, but in face of
the united action, agreed to disclosure of information and a binding agreement to protect workers and the
community, setting a precedent for community-industry relations in South Africa.  The company also
agreed to convene a review board when it announced plans for expansion of its operations.

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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
Comments and suggestions: DESA/DSD