The International Labour Organization (ILO) has called for an urgent action to better manage the toxic flood of electric and electronic waste (e-waste) produced around the world, to turn it into a source of decent work.
Representatives of governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations agreed at an ILO meeting in Geneva on the urgency of protecting people working with e-waste that is toxic and hazardous, and negatively affects workers and the environment, the ILO said in a statement.
They agreed that governments should “increase and promote investments in waste management infrastructure and systems at all levels, as appropriate, to manage the rapidly growing flows of e-waste in ways that advance decent work”.
ILO worker vice-chairperson, James Towers, said, “Workers handling e-waste have no voice, no bargaining power and they are breaking hazardous materials by their hands.”
He noted that these workers are unaware of the many risks associated with handling e-waste.
Only 20 percent of e-waste is formally recycled, even though its value is at 55 billion euros ($62.15 billion).
The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year, said the ILO.
E-waste is becoming an increasingly valuable resource for informal workers along the e-waste value chain, said the ILO.
Such workers recover, repair, refurbish, re-use, repurpose and recycle electrical and electronic equipment, bring innovative services and products to the market and facilitate a transition to the circular economy.
“There is a great business opportunity in the e-waste sector,” said employer vice-chairperson, Patrick Van den Bossche.
“We need to step up our efforts in creating decent and sustainable jobs, fostering an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, offering new products and new services, and adding value through enhancing the circular economy.”
ILO government vice-chairperson, Aniefiok Etim Essah, said that in his country, Nigeria, and several other African countries, e-waste is littering their landscape.
He observed, “Our youth possesses the creativity and potential for learning skills to manage e-waste, allowing us to increase youth employment.”
The ILO is a member of the UN E-Waste Coalition, formed to increase collaboration, build partnerships and more efficiently provide support to help states address the e-waste challenge.