Trade union and environment officials from around the world wrapped up their three-day meeting in Nairobi Tuesday by agreeing that environmental and social issues should become part of traditional workers' rights such as collective bargaining.
Workers' access to clean water, health care and energy, and the protection of workers who handle toxic substances were among the many concerns discussed at the international meeting of organized labor and the United Nations Environment Program.
Representatives from more than 150 trade unions agreed to press for the expansion of workers' rights from traditional rights such as freedom of association and collective bargaining to embrace environmental and social issues.
These include: job creation and security; the care of people with HIV/AIDS; the safe disposal of dangerous substances such as asbestos; and protection against injury and death on the job.
Participants stressed the need to work with one another from all parts of the globe so that safety and environmental standards are similar in rich and poor countries, and that all workers' lives are protected.
John Evans, the general secretary of the Paris-based Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, explains.
"In China, it's producing today one-third of the world's coal," said John Evans. "It has 80 percent of the deaths of mine workers, 4,000 last year. Now we have to work together to ensure that development models don't mean that it's built on the backs of workers losing their lives. We have to work in solidarity against hypocrisy to make sure that developing countries are not a dustbin for goods and waste material which would not be accepted here [in developed countries]."
Participants also discussed environmentally-friendly ways to create jobs, such as setting up energy conservation programs.
The executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Klaus Toepfer, says he thinks the meeting was a breakthrough because many participants felt that upholding environmental standards does not necessarily hurt the economy.
"Traditionally, there's a conflict between the creation and stimulation of jobs on the one side, and the protection of the environment on the other side," said Klaus Toepfer. "So to have the trade unions here gives you the signal that this old split is now not any longer in the center of our concern."
Trade Union Advisory Committee's John Evans urged all governments to ensure that workers are free to pursue their labor, environmental, and social rights.