Published: 11/09/2002

Address by Guy Ryder, ICFTU General Secretary
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development
Johannesburg, 4 September 2002

Mr Chairperson,

I speak on behalf of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions – representing 158 million trade unionists around the world. There have been some 400 representatives of the ICFTU, its affiliates, and our global union partners here in Johannesburg.
Workers, Ladies and gentlemen, are the most numerous stakeholders in the success of this World Summit and are committed to that success.
And as they have called upon the world’s political leaders to meet their historic responsibilities at this Summit, trade unionist have demonstrated also their willingness to pick up their burden of shared responsibility – as partners in sustainable development.

We have urged upon this Summit the compelling need to build a social pillar equal to, and as strong as, the economic and environmental pillars of development. Without that social pillar the edifice of sustainable development cannot itself endure.
And work, workplaces, and working people are the essence of the social pillar. It is through opportunities for decent work that millions of those today trapped in poverty can have access to sustainable livelihoods.

It is by making workplaces safe and healthy that people can meet their needs in acceptable conditions.
And it is through the respect of the fundamental rights of workers and only thus – that they can be engaged as architects of sustainable production processes. This Summit needs to make a firm commitment to those rights. They are essential to the very concept of rights-based, people-centered development.

And so we welcome the recognition we have found in Johannesburg of trade unions as stakeholders and as partners in sustainable development. These are roles we will be taking up vigorously after Johannesburg as we bargain with employers, as we ally with others in civil society and as we make our voices heard in international organisations.

But, like others, we are conscious of missed opportunities and failures of political will.
The opportunity was before us in Johannesburg to redirect the path of today’s unsustainable globalisation, to steer it clear of the spectre of entrenched global apartheid and towards social justice, equity and a better future for coming generations.
And yet – despite the reality of our common future. Despite the acknowledgement of common if differentiated responsibilities, the perspective of short term, narrow gain still weighs heavily.

It is as if individual governments, each placed precariously on the rockface of economic development are struggling to gain for themselves a higher foothold of advantage, believing that if they don’t, others will, blithely unaware that the rockface itself is crumbling and that all will be thrown to the bottom if they don’t start working together – NOW.
Mr Chairperson,

The agenda for action coming from this Summit needs to be an agenda for fundamental change. Change in development priorities, change in governance, change in policy making, change in attitudes and in behaviour. Such change is not welcome to all. It can seem unrealistic, disruptive, and threatening to entrenched interests. Bur for countless millions, the poorest and the most vulnerable to whom this Summit owes most, only fundamental change can bring any hope.

Trade unions have experience of change. And that experience shows that success comes through partnership, participation and negotiation.
Trade unions understand that moves to sustainable production will have impacts on employment. These need to be dealt with through „just transition“ processes formulated and implemented with the full participation of unions.

The ICFTU insists on the primary responsibility of state and inter-governmental action for sustainable development. It needs more coherence. Building and integrating the social pillar requires, it particular, the central involvement of the ILO, and its World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation provides opportunities for this.

Private sectors partnerships and initiatives provide no substitute and cannot be an excuse for government inertia or inaction. Indeed, governments have to be active in applying and building upon existing international instruments addressing the behaviour of multinational enterprises.

But TYPE 2 agreements clearly can be an important compliment. The international trade union movement has been forging partnerships with employers and employers’ organisations which are genuinely committed to working with them. In some cases these have resulted in global framework agreements. And for us, decisive test of the legitimacy of TYPE 2 agreements will be the readiness of enterprises to engage in this fashion with their foremost stakeholders – their workforce through their trade unions.

Mr Chairperson,

This Summit can look to the international trade union movement as committed partners in sustainable development. We go forward from this Summit looking for leadership, vision, solidarity and persistence. Don’t disappoint us, and we will surely not disappoint you.