Principles on the protection of workers from exposure to toxic substances

17 July 2019
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
To the General Assembly’s 42nd session in September 2019


In this report, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 36/15, the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Baskut Tuncak, presents 15 principles to help States, businesses and other key actors respect and protect workers from toxic occupational exposures and to provide remedies for violations of their rights. This report expands on a 2018 report presenting a draft set of principles.

The 15 principals

  1. Everyone must be protected from exposure to toxic substances at work.
  2. States have a duty to protect the human rights of workers through the prevention of exposure to toxic substances.
  3. Business enterprises have a responsibility to prevent occupational exposures to toxic substances.
  4. Hazard elimination is paramount in preventing occupational exposures.
  5. Duties and responsibilities to prevent the exposure of workers to toxic substances extend beyond borders.
  6. States must prevent third parties from distorting scientific evidence or manipulating processes to perpetuate exposure.
  7. Protecting workers from exposure to toxic substances protects their families, their communities and the environment.
  8. Every worker has the right to know, including to know their rights.
  9. Health and safety information about toxic substances must never be confidential.
  10. The right to safe and healthy work is inseparable from freedom of association, the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining.
  11. Workers, representatives of workers, whistle-blowers and rights defenders must all be protected from intimidation, threats and other forms of reprisals.
  12. Workers, their families and their communities must have immediate access to an appropriate and effective remedy, which should be available from the time of exposure.
  13. Workers or their families should not bear the burden of proving the cause of their illness or disability to access an effective remedy.
  14. Depriving workers of their right to safe and healthy work should be a crime.
  15. States should ensure accountability for cross-border cases of workers harmed by occupational exposure.

More on the protection of workers from toxic wastes


These principles are rooted in 25 years of work under the mandate, including country visits, thematic research and communications with States and non-State actors, as well as intensive, targeted consultations undertaken between 2017 and 2019.

The principles are also based on an in-depth examination of various cases of the rights of workers brought to the attention of successive mandate holders, and addressed in reports and discussions at the global, regional, and national levels. They are grounded in existing international human rights law and are built upon the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, several ILO instruments and relevant international agreements on toxic chemicals and wastes.

In 2018 and 2019, the Special Rapporteur circulated questionnaires for all stakeholders to help inform the thematic reports on workers exposed to toxic substances.

See below links to all written inputs received in 2018 and 2019.

Related developments, documents and videos

  • Resolution on workers' protection adopted at HRC 42: Following the report, the Human Rights Council adopted its first stand-alone resolution on occupational exposure to toxics and human rights. The resolution condemns the violations and abuses of the rights of workers in all parts of the world through unsafe exposure to toxic and hazardous substances, and encourages States, businesses and other actors to implement the 15 principles through their respective legal and policy frameworks, as well as through initiatives and programmes.
  • Statements of the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council – HRC42 (2019) | HRC39 (2018)
  • Press Releases – HRC42 (2019) | HRC39 (2018)
  • Interactive Dialogue – Videos Part 1 & Part 2

Special Procedures
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
Recent Thematic Reports
Issues in Focus
Contact information

Dr. Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights

Avenue Giuseppe Motta 48,
CH-1202 Geneva
Fax : +41 22 917 90 06

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