Exposure of workers to toxic substances can and should be considered a form of exploitation and is a global health crisis, says a UN expert.
UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes Baskut Tuncakon Wednesday told the UN Human Rights Council that governments and companies must strengthen protection for workers, their families and their communities from any exposure to toxic chemicals.
One worker dies approximately every 30 seconds from exposure to toxic chemicals, pesticides, radiation and other hazardous substances, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), according to a message UNB received from Geneva.
Global supply chains are often implicated for failing to protect workers from toxic exposures and refusing to provide an effective remedy for individuals harmed.
“Workers’ rights are human rights. No one should be denied their basic human rights, including the rights to life and health because of the work they perform,” said Tuncak.
Tuncak said inaction is not an option and governments have a duty and businesses a responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of workers.
The UN expert said poverty, gender, age, ethnicity and migration are among the themes that frequently recur in cases of workers and toxic harms.
“Those most at risk of exposure are those who are most vulnerable to exploitation: people living in poverty, children, women, migrant workers, people with disabilities, and older people. The economic insecurity of workers who are typically exposed to toxic substances is often exploited,” said Tuncak.
In his report, Tuncak examined the situation of workers exposed to toxic and otherwise hazardous substances worldwide. He proposes 15 principles intended to help governments, businesses and others respect and protect workers from toxic exposures in and around the workplace and to provide remedies for violations of their rights.