Vision Zero Fund High–Level Forum

Improving safety and health in global supply chains vital for development

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown what happens when occupational safety and health systems are under-resourced and unprepared. Improving the protection of working people, particularly in global supply chains, is vital for social and economic development, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, told a meeting of the Vision Zero Fund.

Statement | 23 February 2021
Thank you very much, Connie.

My greetings to Minister Heil, Roberto Suarez, Owen Tudor, and all the participants in this important forum.

Every year, more than 2.7 million people worldwide die from injuries or illnesses due to work that they do or have done. Deaths that happened simply because they went to work to support themselves and their families. It’s like a permanent pandemic.

What’s even more tragic is that these deaths are largely preventable.

And that’s precisely why we are here – because preventing deaths and injuries in global supply chains is what the Vision Zero Fund was set up for.

Our context here today, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, places this in even sharper focus. And it has placed occupational safety and health very squarely on the international agenda.

The pandemic has reminded us of the essential importance of safety and health at work, and what happens when occupational safety and health systems are under-resourced and unprepared, and working people are insufficiently protected.

We have seen how poor conditions in one workplace can affect multiple businesses, communities and countries.

The consequences are not just human health, but increases in poverty, damage to business and economies, and a heavy burden on social protection systems.

So the problems are very much of the moment.

It was in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, when over eleven hundred people died and at least twenty-five hundred more suffered injuries, that Germany launched the Vision Zero Fund at the G7. We are very appreciative of that action. And the ILO was pleased and honoured to be asked to take a leading role in administration of the Fund.

Since then we have worked hard to make the Fund a truly global initiative. It is now present in two African countries, three in Asia and three in the Americas. We estimate that well over five million workers benefit from its projects.

I hope that by the end of this meeting we will all join together with increased determination to realize the full potential of what we are doing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ILO has been involved in protecting workers against sickness, disease and injury for more than 100 years. Since we were founded in 1919, a major portion of ILO work has focused on occupational safety and health.

So far, this has produced 20 Conventions, 27 Recommendations and a Protocol.

And it is a moving target. In the next few years we will be working to enrich these norms and standards with new provisions on biological and chemical risks, ergonomics and machine safety.

Importantly, the concept of a rights-based approach to safety and health is really gaining ground just now.

Let us remind ourselves what the Sustainable Development Goals say about that, Target 8.8 aims to “protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment”.

That is not a bad definition of the challenges ahead of us.

At the ILO’s Centenary International Labour Conference two years ago, we adopted very important proposals to include safe and healthy working conditions in the ILO’s framework of fundamental principles and rights at work.

We’ll be coming back to that undecided issue very soon, at our Governing Body next month, in fact.

My friends,

The pandemic has given new urgency and relevance to occupational safety and health.

If we are to turn this attention into the solid progress we all want to see, it makes sense to look at global supply chains.

Global supply chains account for about 80 per cent of global trade. They provide millions of jobs. They are an important driver of social and economic development.

But their dynamics have also included decent work deficits, including in occupational safety and health, wages, and working hours.

And precisely here, the Vision Zero Fund has a special role to play.

It’s a model of collective action, as this panel reflects. It requires all stakeholders to play a role in making supply chains safer.

This means bringing together governments, multilateral organizations like the ILO, workers and trade unions, employers and their organizations, together with civil society and development agencies.

This is not an easy job to do.

But solutions designed in this broad-based platform seem to me the most likely to succeed in creating a better, safer, and more sustainable future for those working in global supply chains.

That’s what makes the conversation this morning so very important and why the ILO is committed to working with all the other actors to bringing it about.

Thank you.