ILO secures enhanced visibility in global instrument on chemicals

News | 10 March 2023
Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera
The Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) held a meeting to discuss possible text for a new international instrument on chemicals management from 27 February to 3 March at the UN in Nairobi, Kenya. At this meeting, the International Labour Organization (ILO) brought together over 50 labour sector constituents to continue negotiations over the instrument text, to ensure that world of work priorities are adequately represented.

The ILO has been involved in the SAICM process since 2006, when the 297th Governing Body approved SAICM and endorsed follow up action to “support the implementation efforts on those activities of the Strategic Approach of most relevance to the ILO” (GB.297/PV; paragraph 8).

Workers around the world are facing a global health crisis due to occupational exposure to toxic chemicals. Every year, around 1 million workers lose their lives due to hazardous chemical exposures. This translates to at least one worker dying every 30 seconds due to occupational chemical exposures. The WHO/ILO joint estimates found that exposure to air pollution alone was responsible for 450,000 deaths in 2016.

To respond to this crisis, labour sector representatives from governments, employers’ groups, workers’ organizations and wider civil society, successfully collaborated to promote occupational safety and health in this global forum.

An official labour sector coordination meeting brought together more than 50 world of work stakeholders to discuss key concerns and priorities for the SAICM instrument
The week began with a successful labour sector meeting, where attendees from around the world engaged in tripartite discussions to identify key concerns regarding chemicals safety in the world of work. Led by the ILO, labour delegates developed a Conference Room Paper (CRP), proposing a new paragraph on labour sector engagement to be added to the SAICM instrument. The text included specific reference to ‘a safe and healthy working environment’ as a Fundamental Principle and Right at Work and International Labour standards.

Labour sector representatives included ILO HQ and field staff, the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Bangladesh Free Trade Unions Congress (BFTUC), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), government representatives from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, St Kitts and Nevis and Malaysia, as well as around 30 representatives from the Kenyan Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health Services (DOSH) - among others.

Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera
Following a lively debate with stakeholders from around the world, the new labour text will be considered for inclusion in the instrument at the next SAICM meeting - the International Conference for Chemicals Management (ICCM5) in Bonn, Germany (25th to 29th September 2023), where it is hoped that even further progress will be made for the labour sector and occupational safety and health.

Labour sector delegates get together for a celebratory photo after a successful week of SAICM negotiations