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RESPONSIBLE CARE SURVEY (fwd)
15 December 1997
The following is from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM):
CHEMICAL FIRMS NOT SHARING THE CARING?
"RESPONSIBLE CARE" LEAVES MOST WORKERS OUT, SURVEY FINDS
The chemical industry's "Responsible Care" programme on safety and the environment has had no impact on most of the world's chemical workers, a survey published today shows.
Workers and their trade union representatives are neither widely involved in nor well informed about "Responsible Care", according to research conducted by the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).
"Responsible Care" (RC) has become the chemical industry's preferred term for a formal commitment to a set of guiding principles by chemical companies and/or industry associations aimed at improving their safety performance, both in the workplace and in the general environment. Industry analysts hold differing views on the content and effectiveness of the programme, which is often cited by chemical manufacturers in support of a "self-regulatory" (in effect, deregulatory) approach to safety and environment issues.
The Responsible Care programme and related voluntary initiatives will be examined by representatives of the world's workers, employers and governments at a meeting to be held by the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) in early 1999.
A total of 29 unions from 21 countries took part in the ICEM survey, conducted during 1997.
35% of respondents were not even aware of the RC programme. This was not limited to unions in developing or newly restructuring countries. Unions that were both aware of and in some way involved in RC were mainly in Japan, Scandinavia and North-Western Europe. The ability of workers and especially their union representatives in the USA to get involved in a formal and meaningful way in the RC programme is extremely limited, according to US respondents. Unions from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe Union and from developing countries are much less likely to be aware of the RC programme, let alone be involved in it.
Unions that are aware of the RC programme, and those unions involved in it, are in many cases sceptical about its real value. Their main concerns:
- The voluntary nature of the RC programme may mean that it is more of a public relations exercise. One union called it "window dressing".
- The RC programme does little more than ask member companies to comply with current legal standards and codes of practice. This is not particularly innovative.
- Neither the codes of practice nor the guiding principles of the RC programme address the importance of employee or trade union involvement in workplace health, safety and environmental issues.
- The RC programme does not appear to have improved the chemical industry's public image. For example, a 1995 survey by the US Chemical Manufacturers' Association (CMA) indicated that less than 2% of the general public have a favourable view of the RC programme. This is consistent with the observations of at least one of the ICEM's affiliated trade unions which surveyed communities located adjacent to chemical plants.
- On occupational health and safety, companies within the RC programme are only asked to track recordable injuries and illnesses. There is much more that companies could and should do.
- RC programmes are to be found only in the highly developed countries. This suggests that industry is concentrating its efforts where there is already strong legislation and enforcement, perhaps in a bid to prevent further legislation and stricter enforcement. If this is the case, it is the opposite of what is really needed, since the developing countries and the newly restructuring economies face the greatest threats and have the greatest needs.
The ICEM survey also shows that companies based in countries with a high-profile RC programme (such as Japan, Germany and the USA) usually do not run similar programmes within their operations in other parts of the world. This raises important questions about the global applicability of the RC programme.
ICEM proposals for improving the RC programme include:
- Clear industry acceptance that the RC programme is no substitute for legislation, monitoring and enforcement, but is rather an ADDITIONAL commitment by the chemical industry to do the right thing. [The ICEM document notes that some chemical manufacturers are also coming round to this view. For example, Simon de Bree, Chief Executive Officer of the DSM company and past president of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), publicly recognised in his presentation to the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) meeting in Ottawa in February 1997, that there had to be BOTH legislation AND Responsible Care - it was not a case of one or the other.]
- Transparency and inclusiveness. The RC programme, if it is to be successful and credible, has to be independently verifiable. Companies within the RC programme must demonstrate a much greater willingness to engage openly with workers, their trade union representatives and the broader community.
- RC has to be understood, accepted and implemented by all those within the chemical industry - from the chief executive officer to the production worker.
"RC must stand for Real Commitment," says ICEM General Secretary Vic Thorpe.
"The ICEM and its affiliated unions could help make the RC programme a much more credible, verifiable and forward-looking means of tackling the challenges facing the global chemical industry. But this means that companies for their part must involve trade unions as full partners in the programme."
Individual ICEM UPDATE items can be supplied in other languages on request.
Our print magazines ICEM INFO and ICEM GLOBAL are available in Arabic, English, French, German, Russian, Scandinavian and Spanish.
Visit us on the Web at http://www.icem.org
avenue Emile de Beco 109, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium.
tel.+32.2.6262020 fax +32.2.6484316
Editor: Ian Graham, Information Officer
Publisher: Vic Thorpe, General Secretary.