Opening Remarks to the ILO Meeting on Trade Unions and Environmentally Sustainable Development

by Mr Yasuyuki Nodera, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 03 April 2001

Good morning – and a warm welcome to this very important meeting. This event marks something of a new step for the ILO and for our constituents. I think it is a very important step. Your presence underlines this seriousness. I welcome our trade union participants from four countries, including ILO Governing Body member Mr Zainal Rampak – and also colleagues from ACTRAV in Geneva, Mr Satoru Tabusa, Ms Else-Marie Osmundsen and Ms Lene Olsen. It is also pleasing to see the cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme, and the possibility further work together.

Environmentally sustainable development and trade unions have something fundamental in common – and that is – people. Trade unions are about people, and their rights. Environmentally sustainable development is about people. The two are natural partners. It is no accident that fundamental principles and rights at work – and environmental rights – are key pillars of the Global Compact launched by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The ILO, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights are all key partners in this Compact, working together with the Secretary-General, with business, with trade unions, and civil society. The Compact offers global business an opportunity to make a voluntary commitment to nine core principles. It means business with a social conscience – business that thrives while respecting human rights, and the human environment.

Workers have a fundamental interest in environmentally sustainable development. If development is not sustainable – it doesn’t provide sustainable employment. It doesn’t provide the security that is one of the key aims of the ILO’s decent work agenda. The ILO’s primary goal is ensuring that women and men have opportunities for decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Short-sighted, wasteful approaches to development don’t provide this. They don’t measure up. They’re not good for business, they’re not good for nations, they’re not good for people. And, in today’s world, we simply can’t afford them.

We are standing on the threshold of a new millennium. It is a turning point on our calendars. And it is a real turning point for development. We can see the consequences of unsustainable development. We can choose to ignore them. We can choose to wait until those consequences make life so unbearable for so many people that dramatic change is forced upon us. Or we can choose to take a good hard look at some very difficult questions. We can choose to work hard to find solutions. We can choose to lay a solid foundation for sustainable and equitable development.

The ILO wants to take the high road – the hard road. I know that everyone here today does too. It will not be easy. We don’t just have to walk that road. First, we have to map it out. Then we have to build it. That is what this meeting will begin to do. Sharing experiences and sharing aims will help you to define the issues that we are all wrestling with. Working together, we can find useful, practical ways to move closer to our goals. Social dialogue has brought the voices of workers into debates on training, education, productivity – and a host of other issues. The results have often been extraordinary. Social dialogue can bring workers’ voices into the environmental debate too – together with government, employers and civil society. The potential for progress is just as great. Dialogue can help us raise awareness of environmental issues in the workplace – and point the way to better, more sustainable ways of working and doing business.

Ladies and gentlemen – We cannot, in all conscience, do anything less. Every day we hear more about the size of the environmental hazards that we face. "Chilling reading" was how UN Secretary General Kofi Annan this month described the latest forecast from the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climatic Change. Flooding of low lying islands and coastal areas could displace hundreds of millions of people. The numbers – the sheer scale of that kind of disaster – is sometimes hard to grasp. And yet, as UNEP Executive Director Klaus Tofler told a meeting in Bangkok last week – climate change is not a question of prognosis. It is a question of measurement.

We have to act. I am very glad to see that we are starting to do just that.