On the occasion of the XX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work 2014, Germany’s Federal Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, spoke about Germany’s role in international safety and health at work.
Since the last World Congress in Istanbul, news of catastrophic work-related accidents has repeatedly hit the world headlines. The tragic collapse of the textile factory in Bangladesh with over 1,100 dead and almost 2,500 injured has made a particularly profound impression on our memories, the minister said. This shows that occupational safety and health in a globalized world does not stop at national borders, and we must focus greater attention on working conditions in countries supplying us with goods.
Any entrepreneur who invests in healthy workplaces protects his most precious asset: his employees. To this extent it is certainly true that such investments pay off and prevention is also financially worthwhile. “There can be no objection to cost-benefit analyses. But physical integrity is not a question of the return on investment – it is a human right,” Nahles stressed.
While we in Germany and the rest of Europe talk about poor posture and burnout, in many countries there is a shortage of absolute minimum standards in dealing with hazards. This applies particularly to machine workplaces without safeguard functions, factory shops without fire prevention and escape routes, and gruelling physical labour with exposure to dust and toxic vapours without any measures to protect health: “We must urgently improve the in some cases inhumane conditions in which millions of people graft away worldwide. It is a question of bringing about progress all over the world while at the same time closing the gap between the developing and industrialized nations. Global trade needs social rules. This is the task of international labour and social policy, she insisted. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Social Security Association (ISSA) have already achieved a great deal in this field and have also announced wide-reaching programmes for the future, Nahles said.
These include the Decent Work Agenda, for example. Its purpose is to give better protection to migrant workers and particularly people in informal jobs, activities without protection under labour, social and collective bargaining law. It is precisely here that most accidents happen.
Nahles expressed her conviction that companies’ social responsibility must play a significant role in giving a social face to globalization. “Good work worldwide” is the core goal of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and goes hand in glove with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The German Federal Government will implement this with its own plan of action. “Creating a world without serious work-related accidents may be an ambitious goal, but it is not beyond our reach,” the Federal Minister of Labour said finally.
Text: Norbert Ulitzka