Summit on Sustainable Development
Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
26 August-4 September 2002
27 August 2002
PRESS CONFERENCE BY TRADE UNIONS
Expressing concern over the push to decrease the role of governments in the development process, a trade union leader said this afternoon that for a number of years governments had been forced out of the economy, and increasing power had been handed over to multinational corporations and the private sector in general.
Vavi Zwelimzima, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Unions (Cosatu), told a press conference themed “Grounding Sustainability in Reality” that trade unions wanted to see a stronger statement of the role of government in the World Summit’s outcome document.
Responding to a question about the privatization of water, he said he opposed all privatization of basic services. Water was a basic right that must be provided by governments and not subjected to the rules of the market, which would lead to the exclusion of those who could not pay, he added.
John Evans, General Secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also expressed concern about how the negotiations were going with regard to governments pushing the responsibility for implementing sustainable development to private corporations.
Pointing out that unions negotiated with corporations every day and knew how they worked, he said governments must take seriously their responsibility to observe how corporations operated worldwide. He stressed the need to guarantee workers’ rights, cautioning that if they felt environmental sustainability meant losing jobs, it would be very hard to bring them into the mass movement for sustainable development.
Marc Sapir, Director of the European Trade Unions Confederation’s Technical Bureau for Health and Safety, said that European unions were calling on governments to adopt a positive attitude towards debt in the developing countries, particularly those facing financial crisis. The European Union must also recognize the need for a reorientation of subsidies, especially in the field of agriculture.
He emphasized the necessity for health questions to be prominent in global trade rules, saying there was also a need to ensure that European corporations lived up to essential international labour codes and those of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Also addressing the press conference were Anita Normark, General Secretary of the International Federation of Building and Wood Workers; Nilton Freitas, of Brazil’s Unified Workers Confederation; and Lucien Royer, health and safety specialist with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Asked to describe the fallout from agricultural subsidies, Mr. Sapir said the effects in Europe included the overuse of pesticides and natural resources, which caused environmental problems associated with overproduction. One model of agriculture should not be promoted for the whole world. Subsidies must be modified to be more environment-friendly, he added.