Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted from Trades Union Congress


  1.  The TUC welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee's inquiry into the UK's preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg later on this year. The TUC has supported constructive and firm action on sustainable development for some years. Trade union concern on this issue derives from the wish to improve both the living standards and quality of life of this, and future generations. It is not a recent concern but one that has grown naturally out of long campaigns to improve health and safety for workers, both at work and in their communities.

  2.  We believe that environmental, economic and employment and other social factors, need to be considered together in order to implement sustainable development.

  3.  This paper sets out our key comments on the forthcoming World Summit. We also attach, for information, the joint International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) discussion document for the WSSD entitled "Fashioning a New Deal" which sets out issues of concern to the international trade union movement in greater detail[3].


  4.  Since 1992 when workers and trade unions were first designated as a major group for Agenda 21, trade unionists from around the world have participated in various international fora addressing the issue of sustainable development, including in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, OECD, EU, ILO as well as in conferences organised around specific issues eg water, climate change etc. Participation in this process has taken place primarily through the international trade union organisations: the ICFTU, the TUAC, the International Trade Secretariats (ITSs) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The TUC has contributed to the international debate through the ICFTU, TUAC and the ETUC, to which it is affiliated, and supports their position with regard to the forthcoming Summit.

  5.  Trade unions in the UK have also made an effort to address this issue at a national level. Formal consultations with the government have taken place through the Trade Union Sustainable Development Advisory Committee (TUSDAC) which was set up in 1998. TUSDAC is jointly chaired by Michael Meacher, Minister for the Environment and John Edmonds, General Secretary of the GMB, who is the TUC's General Council spokesman on the environment. The membership consists of a broad mix of trade union and government representatives enabling wide ranging discussions.

  6.  TUSDAC has three main aims: (1) to direct trade union input into the policy process to enable constructive dialogue with the Government on sustainable development; (2) to provide a trade union perspective on the employment consequences of climate change, and the Government's response to it; and 3) to help mobilise the trade union movement to become more involved in better environmental practice in the workplace, building on existing initiatives and activities, and disseminating information and experience.

  7.  It should be noted that many trade unionists engage with sustainability issues without necessarily labelling them as such, for example, through health and safety initiatives.


  8.  Chapter 29 of Agenda 21 deals with strengthening the role of workers and their trade unions. It recognises that efforts to implement sustainable development will involve adjustment and opportunities at the national and enterprise levels, with workers foremost among those concerned. It also identifies trade unions, the representatives of workers, as vital actors in facilitating the achievement of sustainable development in the light of their experience in addressing industrial change, the high priority they give to protection of the working environment and related natural environment, and their promotion of socially responsible and economic development. Networks of collaboration between trade unions are also highlighted as important channels through which to facilitate sustainable development concepts.

  9.  Chapter 29 goes on to propose a number of objectives for accomplishment by the year 2000, including promoting the ratification of relevant Conventions of the ILO and the enactment of legislation to support those Conventions; establishing bipartite and tripartite mechanisms on safety, health and sustainable development; increasing the number of environmental collective agreements aimed at achieving sustainable development; and increasing the provision of workers' education, training and retraining, particularly in the area of occupational health and safety and the environment.

  10.  In addition, Chapter 29 outlines activities for governments and business. These are: to promote freedom of association; strengthen participation and consultation; and provide adequate training to enable workers and their representatives to participate effectively in implementing sustainable development at all levels. Roles are also outlined for trade unions. These include co-operating with employers and government to ensure the concept of sustainable development is equitably implemented; seeking to ensure that workers are able to participate in environmental audits at the workplace and in environmental impact assessments and participating in wider community, national, regional and international activities.

  11.  Although some advancement has been made on these objectives, for example the establishment of TUSDAC and the UK government's ratification of all the core ILO conventions, on the whole, progress has been painfully slow.

  12.  For example, key issues such as the promotion of respect for the fundamental human rights of workers[4] (in particular, freedom of association and collective bargaining) internationally and the need to protect them from being undermined by policies of the international financial institutions and international trade rules; the need for trade union environmental representatives analogous to health and safety representatives; and the provision of education and training for trade union representatives have not been adequately addressed.

  13.  In addition, there is a need for more detailed research on the consequences of international environmental agreements and policies on employment, including an analysis of the impact on different regions, sectors and industries.


  14.  The TUC welcomes the government's stated commitment to the World Summit and the fact that the Prime Minister was the first head of government to express his intention to attend the conference. We also welcome the consultation that has been initiated with civil society organisations, including with TUSDAC in order to formulate the UK input.

  15.  We are hopeful that some of the areas of work undertaken by TUSDAC so far can be developed, with the help of DEFRA, to highlight how trade unions and government can collaborate to address the employment consequences of environmental policies.


  16.  Sustainable patterns of production and consumption can only be achieved through an integrated approach that promotes social and economic well-being and democratic participation for people everywhere. In order to engage the interest and support of workers and their communities, the UK and other governments need first of all to address everyday concerns such as:

    —  poverty and social exclusion, through job creation and decent employment, which includes respect for the fundamental human rights of workers;

    —  basic security of livelihood, through social and employment transition planning which provides for retraining and facilitates re-employment where necessary ("just transition");

    —  social barriers based on discrimination;

    —  access to basic amenities including health and education; and

    —  political rights to participate in the democratic process.

  17.  Consistent with Chapter 29 of Agenda 21, we assert that the workplace occupies a strategic position in promoting sustainable development and greater effort should be made to utilise its potential. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, workplaces are at the centre of production and consumption. In addition, workplace based programmes that are designed to make employees more responsible consumers can have a positive "spill-over" effect on domestic consumption patterns.

  18.  The extensive experience of trade unions in the field of occupational health and safety has taught us that the engagement and effective involvement of workers is a primary requirement for the effectiveness of workplace approaches. It is therefore crucial that employers and the government work with trade unions to develop the potential of the workplace to promote sustainable development, and in particular, to train workers, build on health and safety mechanisms already in place and to make progress towards representation on environmental issues through environmental representatives.

  19.  Another priority is the adoption of economic and fiscal policies which stimulate the private and public investment that are indispensable to the development and use of cleaner and cost-effective technologies as well as the reduction of the difference between market cost and labour costs. Clean technologies and products which respectthe environment should be promoted ad supported in public procurement policies.

  20.  Technology transfer to developing countries and capacity building, including for their trade unions are also crucial.

  21.  Effective national and international regulation and coherence between such instruments is needed to promote sustainable development and to protect the environment. Multilateral Environmental Agreements and Conventions of the ILO, particularly the core Conventions must not be violated or subordinated to international trade rules. In addition, use of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and collective agreements can complement regulatory mechanisms and promote collaborative workplace action.

  22.  A focus on the positive relationship between environmental activities and the creation of jobs is required. In this regard, and in order to satisfy requirements that will arise, appropriate investment, education, training and qualification policies need to be developed.

  23.  These priorities are central to sustainable development and we urge the government to promote them for the WSSD and beyond.

  24.  Specific issues which the WSSD should address include the links between public health and workplace health and safety; sustainable energy systems; and sustainable food production.


  25.  The UK government can enhance the participation of developing countries at the WSSD through financial assistance and capacity building, which should extend to civil society, including trade unions.

  26.  The European Union will discuss its strategy for the WSSD at the Spring Summit in Barcelona, building on its sustainability strategy launched by the Council at the Gothenburg Summit in June last year. We urge the UK government to play an active role and to ensure that Europe is a driving force for sustainable development on the international stage.


  27.  Progress on sustainable development since the Rio Earth Summit has been limited. The World Summit in Johannesburg must address effectively the fundamental global problem of the existing economic system undermining our life support systems. To do this, economic, social and environmental policy must be brought together in a mutually supportive way with particular attention paid to the importance of employment creation, social protection and inclusion.

February 2002

3   Available from the Trade Union Advisory Committee website at Back

4   These are the "core labour standards" which are: freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; the effective abolition of child labour; and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. Back

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