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Green transition offers “once-in-lifetime” chance to improve work conditions

Date posted
05 July 2023
Press release
Marcus Boocock
Estimated reading time
2 minute read

The transition to greener economies and industries offers a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to improve working conditions and practices for migrant workers, according to IOSH.

Responding to a United Nations (UN) consultation on human rights in the extractive sector, IOSH called for a sharp focus from governments and industry stakeholders to ensuring people are protected in the complex context of a transition towards environmentally sustainable economies.

It argues that despite an underlying assumption that work towards the greener economy is safe, this is not the case and workers in the sector face risks to their lives and livelihoods on a daily basis, including workplace accidents and infectious diseases.

IOSH sees the transition to greener economies and industries such as the extractive sector – with the consequent renewed focus on the entire mineral supply chain – as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the working conditions, working environment and working practices of low-skilled and migrant workers.

IOSH's consultation response added that it also applies to vulnerable workers in “the so-called informal economy, who continue to have poor access to human rights provisions, including labour protection and health and safety protections and worker rights”.

IOSH adds: “It is undeniable that extractive industries are critical to a human rights-based and just transition, but IOSH believes that awareness and action of occupational safety and health impacts remains poor among stakeholders, and this is an agenda that needs to be prioritised as part of a strengthened, human rights-based approach.”

The consultation was launched by the UN’s Working Group on Business and Human Rights as it prepares a report to be presented to its General Assembly later this year.

In its call for input, the group highlighted that in response to the climate change emergency, many states, businesses enterprises, investors and other stakeholders in the global extractive sector were seeking to implement net-zero emission and energy transition programmes. However, this has led to concerns about increases in child labour, modern slavery, poverty, and social exclusion.

In its response, IOSH highlighted some of the risks faced by miners – including artisanal miners and small-scale miners – such as chronic exposure to cobalt dust, child labour, work in extreme climate conditions, violence, long working hours, and a lack of protective equipment.

It has called for legislation requiring raw mineral extraction companies to produce specific occupational safety and health impact assessments as part of mining project approval processes, as well as the adoption of health and safety risk assessments that consider new hazards and risks arising from greening processes associated to the extractive industry.

“Another avenue is for human rights clauses to be firmly embedded into implementation plans for net-zero emission and energy transition programmes. Those plans would consist of international trade negotiations and trade agreements and include human rights-based principles primarily targeted towards a more sustainable and human-centred trade.

“Extractive industries should be encouraged to list and report a comprehensive account of risks and violations associated with the use of minerals used for the energy transition. For large-scale mining industry, disclosing data at source seems to be the way forward if companies want to excel on their social license to operate.”

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Last updated: 31 January 2024

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  • Environment and climate
  • Hazardous work
  • Social sustainability