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UN experts urge ILO to back safe and healthy work conditions as a 'fundamental' right

13 June 2019

GENEVA (13 June 2019) – UN experts today urged the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to immediately recognise and adopt safe and healthy working conditions as one of its fundamental principles and rights at work.

"Millions of workers around the world suffer from diseases and disabilities due to unsafe and unhealthy conditions of work.  It is estimated that approximately two million workers die prematurely each year because of an unsafe or unhealthy workplace," the experts* said as the ILO held its centenary conference in Geneva.

"Safe and healthy working conditions have been explicitly recognised under the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights since 1966 as a fundamental aspect of the right to just and favourable conditions of work.  However, despite ILO Convention 155, the right to safe and healthy working conditions is not among the "Fundamental principles and rights at work" recognised by the ILO." The draft "ILO Centenary outcome document," currently under discussion, proposes that ILO recognise occupational safety and health as a fundamental principle and right at work.

The independent experts said States and businesses had repeatedly expressed commitment to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which includes a duty and responsibility to protect the health and safety of workers.

"It is regrettable, however, that some employers and their representative organisations are attempting to block recognition of the right to safe and healthy working conditions as one of ILO's fundamental rights and principles, calling into question the depth of the private sector's commitment to respect human rights.

"It is long overdue that the ILO recognises the right to safe and healthy working conditions as one of its fundamental principles and rights at work. The ILO’s recognition is essential to help end the exploitation of workers who are forced to choose between a paycheque and their health.  It would be a fitting tribute to the millions who have lost their lives as a result of this abhorrent choice."


* The UN experts: Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics wastes ; Mr  Dainius Pῡras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Ms Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Members of the UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on human rights to water and sanitation

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Ms Lilit Nikoghosyan (+41 22 9179936 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])