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Wednesday, November 28 • 1:30pm - 2:45pm
Addressing human rights impacts of toxic substances: challenges and human rights due diligence across sectors with a deep dive on the electronics industry

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Brief description of the session:
Workers around the world find themselves in the midst of a public health crisis due to their exposure to hazardous substances at work. This session will look into the electronics industry as an example of such crisis and explore ways to overcome the challenge of workers’ exposure to hazardous substances as it remains poorly addressed. Furthermore, the exposure of workers to toxic substances can and should be considered a form of exploitation. States, business actors and international organizations can eliminate or minimize exposures and must do so with urgency. This session aims to pave the way forward for the different actors involved to achieve the protection of workers from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Session objectives:
  • Discuss exposure of workers to toxic substances as a form of exploitation and global multi-stakeholder challenge.
  • Urge States to protect, respect and fulfill the human rights of workers, including access to effective remedies when they have been infringed by their occupational exposures to toxic and otherwise hazardous substances.
  • Urge business enterprises to take their full responsibilities and implement human rights due diligence processes to prevent and address exposure of workers in the supply chain and support access to effective remedies in case of infringements.
  • Discuss transparency and right to information as a key element of the way forward.

Key discussion questions:
  • How to address the lack of meaningful health and safety information provided to workers?
  • What does the right to information means for a worker and their representatives when it comes to preventing exposure? What is the workers right to know?
  • What are industry initiatives to prevent exposure?
  • How can employers make information available and accessible to workers about various facets of their actual or potential exposure to toxic chemicals?
  • What should this information include as a minimum?
  • What is the responsibility of the Chemicals sector to respect human rights under the UNGP?

Format of the session:
Roundtable Discussion format
Introduction remarks by the Special Rapporteur
Followed by streaming a trailer from a compelling new video about victims of chemical exposure which shows the challenges in prevention and access to remedy.
Kick-off speakers will represent different challenges and initiatives
Open discussion facilitated by moderator
Closing Remarks

Background to the discussion:
Despite clear obligations relating to the protection of workers’ health, workers around the world find themselves in the midst of a public health crisis due to their exposures to hazardous substances at work. It is estimated that one worker dies every 15 seconds from toxic exposures at work, while over 2,780,000 workers globally die from unsafe or unhealthy conditions at work each year. The electronics industry is no exception. Electronics has become one of the largest sectors in the global economy, employing tens of millions of workers. One the main challenges of the sector is that it is chemically intensive, putting these workers at serious risk of chemical exposure and toxic-related occupational illness. Over the past several decades, numerous cases have emerged of workers poisoned by toxic chemicals in the lifecycle of electronics.

Taking the electronics industry as an example, this session will focus in highlighting States’ duties and businesses’ responsibilities in protecting and respecting the rights of workers implicated by toxic occupational exposures. It will discuss the importance of worker’s right to know, and explore the relationship between due diligence and the protection of workers. Current initiatives from civil society, industry coalitions and multi-stakeholder groups will be discussed. The Special Rapporteur on toxics will outline several causes that give rise to the exploitation of workers, and offer 15 Principles to help States, businesses and other key actors ensure decent work for all. Finally, the session will urge all stakeholders to eliminate workers’ exposure and propose relevant actions.


avatar for Alejandro Gonzalez

Alejandro Gonzalez

International Coordinator, GoodElectronics Network
Alejandro is the international coordinator of the GoodElectronics Network – a network (hosted by SOMO) of civil society organizations and individuals that are concerned about human rights and sustainability issues in the global electronics supply chain. Alejandro is a human rights... Read More →
avatar for Fernanda Hopenhaym

Fernanda Hopenhaym

Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Proyecto sobre Organización, Desarrollo, Educación e Investigación PODER
avatar for Yves Lador

Yves Lador

Representative in Geneva, Earthjustice
avatar for Bob Mitchell

Bob Mitchell

Vice President, Responsible Business Alliance
As Vice President at the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA), Bob leads the strategy development and implementation for environmental and human rights programs. He is a 16-year veteran of Hewlett Packard and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with over 11 years in sustainability. He was... Read More →
avatar for Marcos A. Orellana

Marcos A. Orellana

Relator Especial sobre las implicaciones para los derechos humanos de la gestión y eliminación ecológicamente racionales de las sustancias y los desechos peligrosos
El Dr. Marcos A. Orellana es experto en derecho internacional y en derechos humanos y el medio ambiente. Ha actuado como asesor jurídico de agencias de las Naciones Unidas, gobiernos y organizaciones no gubernamentales, incluso en cuestiones de desechos y productos químicos en los... Read More →
avatar for Ted Smith

Ted Smith

International Coordinator, International Campaign for Responsible Technology
I have been working at the intersection of toxics and human rights in the electronics industry for more than 40 years in Silicon Valley, California. I was a founder of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition in 1982, then helped to form the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and am now the Coordinator... Read More →

Wednesday November 28, 2018 1:30pm - 2:45pm CET