The International Labour Organisation has called for urgent action to better manage the toxic flood of electric and electronic waste (e-waste) produced around the world, so it can be turned into a valuable source of decent work.
Representatives of governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations agreed at a meeting at the ILO in Geneva 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.”
The meeting, which was held early April 2019, also saw attendees agreeing on the urgency of protecting people working with e-waste, which is toxic and hazardous and negatively affects workers and the environment.
“Workers handling e-waste have no voice, no bargaining power and they are breaking hazardous materials by their hands,” said worker vice-chairperson, James Towers. “Moreover, these workers are unaware of the many risks associated with handling e-waste”.
Only 20 per cent of e-waste is formally recycled, even though it is valued at €55 billion (RM255 billion)
E-waste is becoming an increasingly important resource for informal workers along the e-waste value chain who 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 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”.
The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of e-waste a year.
“In my own country, Nigeria, and in several other African countries, e-waste is littering our landscape,” said government vice-chairperson, Aniefiok Etim Essah. Yet, he added, “Our youth possesses the creativity and potential for learning skills to manage e-waste, giving us the opportunity 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.