Introduction to the Charter of Rights against Industrial Hazards: For Communities, Workers, and Protection of Their Environment

Article excerpt

THE WORLD HAS NOW ACQUIRED AMPLE EXPERIENCE OF INDUSTRIAL AND ENVIRON mental hazards. Lessons must be learned from these experiences so that those who have died and suffered will not have done so entirely in vain. So judged the Third Tribunal on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights, after hearing evidence in Bhopal from the victims of the industrial disasters in October 1992. The Charter of Rights Against Industrial Hazards is based on a series of tribunals and aims to provide workers and communities with a common agenda.

The four tribunals on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights have listened to evidence from survivors, community groups, and workers around the world, as well as from professionals and experts, and, together, their evidence has shaped a new Charter that is intended to set standards for protecting people and their environment from hazards arising from all aspects of industrial production. The Charter has been shaped by the evidence presented to the tribunals and many others to whom it has been circulated for consultation, to address the failure of industry, government, and professional services to meet the needs of those affected by industrial hazards. Whether a hazard is dramatic and affects many, as in the case of Bhopal, or is the result of smaller-scale regular or irregular toxic emissions, common principles of justice need to be applied, common standards established, and common guidance provided on proper medical, legal, social, and economic action to take so as to prevent or redress the wrongs.

The resulting Charter presented below forms the basis of an international convention for presentation to the United Nations for formal recognition by governments. The Charter also calls on community groups, trade unions, public interest organizations, and individuals to assert these rights as a duty in order to improve standards and protect communities and workers, as well as their living and working environment.

Despite the diverse situations and experiences of survivors and other affected groups who presented evidence at the tribunals, a remarkable similarity characterized the problems they encountered and the absence of the support they needed to deal with problems arising from industrial hazards. Although approaches will change according to particular circumstances and problems, broad principles can be established and general needs identified. These charters must be taken up now to ensure that communities, workers, and their environment are safeguarded from the harmful impacts of industrial processes.

The Charter on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights was drafted in the spirit of learning from the past so that a more humane future may be possible. It is a people's statement, not an official document. Unlike most human rights documents, its content was not determined by diplomatic compromise. Rather, its substance, and hence its authority, derives directly from the collective experience of those who have been forced to live with the consequences of industrial hazards.

The hearings on industrial hazards and human rights took place in New Haven (U.S., 1991), Bangkok (Thailand, 1991), Bhopal (India, 1992), and London (U.K., 1994). Nearly five years in the drafting, the Charter was based on evidence presented at the first three sites and was then discussed at a parallel session to the London hearings that was attended by witnesses and other community, victim, and worker groups. This draft was circulated widely around the world for further consultation and the final text reflects a great deal of consensus from these sources. The charters thus reflect the experience and work of many diverse groups and individuals concerned with industrial hazards, human fights, the plight of affected people, and the impact of hazards on the environment. These tribunals brought the impact of industrial production into the arena of human rights abuses. They heard evidence from victims' organizations, communities, workers, women' s groups, and public interest groups. …