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BOHS: “Worker health protection is an international human rights issue”

26 January 2015

BOHS, The Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, has welcomed a new Corporate Human Rights Benchmark that will assess and rank the human rights performance of international companies, and urged employers to recognise worker health protection as a fundamental human rights issue in assessing their global supply chains.

The Corporate Human Rights Benchmark is the first wide scale project to rank companies on their human rights performance. A total of 500 of the top global companies from four key sectors – agriculture, ICT, apparel, and extractives – will initially be researched and ranked.

The project was announced at the end of 2014 by an international group led by Aviva Investors. Jo Swinson, the Business Minister, subsequently confirmed the project would be financially backed by the British government, including £80,000 in start-up funding.

It is hoped that the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark will harness the competitive nature of global markets to drive better human rights performance, through developing a transparent, publicly available and credible benchmark.

Commenting on the plans, Mike Slater, president of BOHS, said: "Worker health protection is an international human rights issue and the statistics prove that this new project is greatly needed. Every 15 seconds, a worker somewhere in the world dies from a work-related accident or disease. This means that every day, more than 6000 people die due to occupational accidents or work related diseases – over 2.3 million deaths per year around the world – costing 4% of global gross domestic product each year. Yet the vast majority of this burden – a massive 86% - is the result of work-related diseases, with 14% due to workplace accidents. We therefore urge British employers to look at worker health and safety in assessing their international supply chains.”

BOHS has long had an international focus, with over 1800 members in 61 countries around the world. Accordingly, the chartered society has welcomed the increasing awareness amongst investors, companies, governments and consumers of the impacts of global business on international human rights.

Slater added: "Events such as the Rana Plaza disaster and the terrible Tazreen factory fire have received widespread attention in newspapers around the world, and rightly so. However, the deadly diseases threatening the lives of millions of workers across the continents are less well known. For example, millions of workers around the world continue to be at risk of lung disease - especially silicosis, coal workers' pneumoconiosis, and asbestos-related diseases - due to widespread exposures to silica, coal, asbestos and various mineral dusts in mining, quarrying, construction and other manufacturing processes.

"We welcome this new benchmarking project as another positive step - in addition to government efforts such as the Modern Slavery Bill’s clause on transparency in supply chains and industry initiatives such as the clothing sector’s Fashion Revolution campaign – to protect the human rights of workers around the world. Certainly, the right to work in an environment which is not detrimental to a worker’s health must be viewed as one of the most fundamental of human rights.

As the world continues to shrink with the rapid development of information, communication and other technologies, worker health should not be neglected. We hope the new benchmark will be used to highlight the very basic right to a healthy working environment and that it will identify those companies that manage their occupational hygiene responsibilities in order to achieve best practice in worker health protection.”