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International Labour Organization Adds Safety and Health to Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work

Message from the Director

Baskut Tuncak

June 14, 2022

Last week, delegates representing 187 countries from around the world took a long-anticipated step to address the global public health crisis facing workers. On June 10, the International Labour Conference (ILC) decided to include “safe and healthy working environments” as one of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. By contrast, when the ILO adopted four fundamental principles and rights at work in 1998, none of these rights included occupational safety and health.

However, the decision of the ILC is far more important than correcting a grievous omission, inconsistent with international law, as stated by UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights. The inclusion of safe and healthy working environments stands to be a transformative development in advancing chemical safety in countries around the world, including the United States. ILO now estimates that over 3 million workers die prematurely from occupational diseases and disabilities each year – nearly 6 workers every minute – the vast majority of which are caused by exposure to hazardous substances at work.

Through this decision, all governments will report to the ILO on how they are implementing key ILO Conventions on occupational safety and health, irrespective of whether they have ratified these legal instruments. These reports and their subsequent review creates a long-sought opportunity for governments and businesses to advance core principles on the protection of workers’ rights from exposures to at work, as encouraged by a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019, developed in collaboration with worker representatives.

There is good reason for optimism. The designation of issues as “fundamental” by the ILC has catapulted the priority of certain human rights concerns within governments, such as child and forced labor, resulting in significant progress nationally and internationally. Workers, their families and communities around the world stand to benefit from the elevation of chemical safety as fundamental to worker rights.

I appreciate the work that Massachusetts companies have done to protect worker health and safety. TURI engineers and scientists continue to help organizations reduce toxic chemical use in Massachusetts and beyond. Please reach out to me to share your ideas and concerns.

Director of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell, Baskut Tuncak previously held the position of the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics.