Built on research commissioned by the Solidarity Center, the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) in May launched a heat stress campaign with other civil society groups and government in Abuja to address the impact of worsening heat on Nigeria’s working people—especially those who earn their living outdoors, such as on construction sites or in agricultural or oil fields.  

“The campaign is key to promoting environmental justice, occupational health and safety, and a safe working environment for Nigerian workers and Nigerians in general,” said NLC Senior Assistant General Secretary Eustace James.

A lethal heat wave that overwhelmed hospitals and mortuaries in some parts of West Africa last month is a warning of similar events to come with increasing frequency, predicts international climate scientist network World Weather Attribution (WWA). 

The “Stop the Heat Stress” climate justice campaign features data collection through sector-union surveys as well as street rallies and visits to state legislators and administrators to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on worker health and safety.

A key preliminary finding of the unions’ climate impact research is the worrying impact of heat stress on workers’ mental health. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures at work reduces productivity and increases the risk of injury, disease and death, reports the International Labor Organization (ILO), which is recommending employer and government mitigation measures. Indeed, an intense heatwave in April likely killed “hundreds or thousands of people” across West Africa. And the summer of 2023 recorded some of the highest temperatures on record for the entire planet, having significant consequences for human life, including in the world of work, warned the ILO.

To ensure that climate-related legislation and policies prioritize worker health and safety and their economic survival, the union campaign is partnering with Nigeria’s Environment and Labor Ministries, governmental bodies involved in environmental efforts, including Nigeria’s National Council on Climate Change (NCCC), and environmental civil society organizations.

The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), one of the country’s two labor federations, continues to call for the immediate inclusion of workers and their unions in the governing structures of the NCCC—in part to protect those working in the agricultural sector, where almost half of all job losses are expected to occur. New climate policies—whether designed to mitigate or respond to worsening impacts—will inevitably impact working people. To ensure that these policies protect and build resilience for workers and their communities, unions must be meaningfully included in their development.

“The grim reality that 81.4 percent of Nigerian workers lack insurance against potential job losses brings to the fore our demand for social protection to protect vulnerable workers,” said the NLC’s Uche Ekwe, representing NLC General Secretary Emma Ugboaja.

The NLC and TUC are umbrella unions that together represent millions of workers in Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria’s poverty rate was estimated to have reached almost 40 percent in 2023, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians living below the poverty line, the world’s second-largest poor population after India.

“[There must be] intensity in ensuring safety and climate justice for all,” said James.



Marking this year’s Earth Day, the Solidarity Center is launching a new video about Bangladesh tannery workers’ campaign for safer, healthier and greener jobs. Available in English and Bangla, the video provides a window into one of the country’s most dangerous jobs and demonstrates how the tannery sector sits at the intersection of the worker rights and environmental justice movements.

Bangladesh’s leather sector, which satisfies one-tenth of world demand and whose exports of leather and leather goods totaled $1.1 billion in 2022, profits from a model that relies on low wages, lax workplace safety and unchecked environmental degradation. Its processes involve a stew of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals. Left untreated or flushed into waterways or surrounding areas, as happened in Hazaribagh, Dhaka, for decades, these substances pollute the environment, sicken workers and the local population, contaminate the air and water sources, and make food production dangerous. In Savar Tannery Industrial Estate in Hemayetpur—to which the government in 2017 ordered approximately 25,000 tannery workers and their families to move amid increasing international pressure regarding Hazaribagh’s toxic environmental and working conditions—factory sludge and effluents are not being effectively treated and new environmental threats are being created.

Meanwhile Bangladesh is one of the most acutely climate-impacted countries, with cyclones, flooding and extreme heat increasingly common. Around the world and in Bangladesh, climate change hits the poorest and most marginalized communities hardest. Worsening climate change, combined with environmental degradation in the workplace and surrounding communities, have compounding impacts on workers and their families.

A recent Solidarity Center survey of tannery workers living in Hemayetpur illustrates how the impact of industrial pollution, harsh working conditions and low wages is leaving workers, their families and their communities increasingly vulnerable to serious health issues and more frequent climate-related shocks in the country.

Workers said they have suffered exposure to fire or electric shock, falling, cutting, broken bones, heavy objects falling on them, contact with acid or chemicals, and inhalation of chemical fumes or gas. Health issues diminish workers’ earnings—which workers said were insufficient for covering basic needs. At the same time, costs have skyrocketed, including for transportation, which is made more challenging when regular waterlogging and flooding make roads impassable.

Local communities have reported that they are afraid or unable to grow food or catch fish, and note that just breathing the polluted air is enough to ruin their appetite. Poor water quality, meanwhile, adds to the burden of women’s care work, and more women than men mentioned now having to spend more time collecting water and doing so from greater distances.

“We used to cook with the water of [the] river. I used to bathe in the river. But we cannot do anything with the river water now,” a woman community member affected by the Savar Tannery Industrial Estate told the Solidarity Center last year.

With Workers, Toward a Safer, Greener, More Fair Industry

Because workers best understand the hazards and solutions to improving their jobs—and how they and their families are most disproportionately impacted by the health consequences of environmental degradation—workers are demanding inclusion in industry decision-making and wage-setting processes.

The Solidarity Center partners in Bangladesh with the Tannery Workers Union (TWU) representing those who—like others in Bangladesh and around the world—are suffering geographic displacement and other climate change consequences, as well as environmental degradation at work and in their communities.




Bangladesh: Survey Details Impact of Climate Crisis, Pollution on Tannery Workers

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
Bangladesh: Survey Details Impact of Climate Crisis, Pollution on Tannery Workers

A survey of tannery workers living in Hemayetpur, Bangladesh, is illustrating how the impact of industrial pollution, harsh working conditions and low wages is leaving workers, their families and their communities increasingly vulnerable to ever-increasing climate-related shocks in the country.

“When combined with the health consequences of environmental degradation and the climate crisis, the compounding impacts on workers, their families and their communities are devastating,” says Sonia Mistry, Solidarity Center climate and labor justice global lead.

More than 200 tannery workers were surveyed for a study conducted with Solidarity Center support by Jagannath University Associate Professor Mostafiz Ahmed. Survey findings include:

  • More than half of those surveyed say their employment prospects have been negatively affected by environmental impacts. Of this number, nearly 70 percent report consequences from environmentally related illnesses, including wage cuts.
  • More than 80 percent say their wages are too low to meet their family’s needs and more than 90 percent are working without a contract. Precarious employment exacerbates vulnerabilities to ongoing climate shocks, reducing resilience for entire communities.
  • The majority (75 percent) of participants have suffered work-related broken bones, and a similar number experience respiratory problems—including asthma.  

Leather production is one of Bangladesh’s oldest industries, and the country’s leather exports satisfy one-tenth of world demand. For decades, tanneries in the main industrial site in Dhaka dumped 22,000 cubic meters of toxic waste daily into the Buriganga River, wiping out aquatic life and polluting ground water needed for drinking.

Amid increasing international pressure about toxic tannery-related environmental and working conditions, the government in 2017 ordered approximately 25,000 tannery workers and their families to move from Hazaribagh, a Dhaka neighborhood and one of the most polluted places on Earth, to the newly built Tannery Industrial Estate in Hemayetpur. Although the new site provides a central effluent treatment plant, all factory sludge and effluents are still not being treated and environmental threats remain.

“Engaging with workers and their unions through collective bargaining and policy development is essential to improving working conditions and developing climate and environmental solutions, both of which are necessary to build resilience for workers and their communities,” says Mistry.

In the Bangladesh tannery sector, the Solidarity Center partners with the Tannery Workers Union (TWU), which for almost 60 years has worked to protect the rights and interests of the workers in the sector.  




Brazil and Honduras Solidarity Center partners raised union women’s voices in three civil society sessions of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last week, focusing on issues including femicide in the world of work, climate change as a root cause of migration and women workers in the climate justice struggle.  Speakers representing diverse organizations, sectors and regions addressed the challenges that arise from the lack of gender-sensitive justice and rights-based responses to climate-related migration, and shared how migrant women are leading with resilience and in solidarity.

Listen to this article.

Iris Munguía, women’s coordinator for the Honduran Federation of Agro-industrial Unions (FESTAGRO), told the audience attending “Migration, Displacement and Women’s Human Rights in the Climate Crisis,” a virtual parallel event, that women are bearing the brunt of extreme climate events in Central America. The panel explored the impacts of climate change at the intersection of migration and gender.

“The women were the most affected,” said Munguía describing the impact of devastating back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 on women working in the banana sector. In addition to trying to recover from the loss of possessions, home and work, “we have the full responsibilities of families on our backs.”

In the aftermath of the two hurricanes, which impacted 90 percent of Honduras’ agricultural sector, more than 10,000 women employed by commercial banana growers immediately lost their income, said Munguía. Struggling to rebuild communities and homes leveled by hurricane winds and flooding while waiting up to nine months for their jobs to return, many women and girls were forced to migrate north to earn their livelihoods—a dangerous passage that exposed them to sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence. Women who remained behind while partners or other family members took the perilous journey north struggled to keep children and other dependents safe, sheltered and fed while waiting for remittances that might never come.

Munguía highlighted the role of banana sector unions in fighting for their members’ rights, describing outreach efforts to secure and coordinate international hurricane relief and recovery efforts and encouraging multinational banana companies to compensate women banana packers while they were waiting for production to come back online.

Honduran unions are working with the country’s government to address climate crisis effects and resultant migration, said Munguía, such as river maintenance to better prevent flooding and labor rights improvements so that desperate and disenfranchised workers are not forced into dangerous migration.

Honduras is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, where climate changes and severe weather events are increasingly pushing people north. One in four Hondurans works directly in agriculture—including commercial production and packing of the country’s two main economic drivers, bananas and coffee. The country’s people and economy are weathering a four-decade rise in average temperature and bearing the brunt of increasingly frequent severe weather events. A 2016 drought left 1.3 million Hondurans in need of humanitarian assistance; from 2014 to 2016, people who migrated from the country’s so-called “dry corridor” most frequently cited lack of food as their driving factor.

“Climate disasters can be particularly devastating for women on the move—whether through involuntary displacement, voluntary migration, or some combination thereof,” said Sonia Mistry, panel moderator and Solidarity Center global lead on climate change and just transition. And, she added, failure to meet the needs of migrant and displaced women through policies and practices can be equally disastrous—creating additional marginalization and vulnerabilities.

Solidarity Center's Sonia Mistry moderates a panel discussion

Panel Moderator and Solidarity Center Climate Change and Just Transition Global Lead Sonia Mistry.

Women Empowered Can Drive Change

In Nigeria, unions are building the capacities of members who find themselves on the frontlines of the climate crisis, said Moradeke Abiodun-Badru, a former officer of Solidarity Center partner the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), health professional, gender expert and global union Public Service International’s (PSI) West Africa project coordinator.

“Women must be empowered as agents of social change,” says Moradeke Abiodun-Badru, global union Public Service International (PSI) West Africa project coordinator.

In Nigeria’s north, where 65 percent of surveyed families in Yobe state reported involvement in farming, two-thirds of last year’s crops were lost to drought.

“Women must be empowered as agents of social change,” said Abiodun-Badru, adding that refugee camps in the north are mostly populated by women and children fleeing regional violence caused in part by the hunger and poverty associated with ever-increasing drought conditions—including competition between farmers and herders for scarce resources.

Climate change impacts are increasing so rapidly they could soon overwhelm the ability of nature and humanity to adapt, concluded a report by a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations earlier this year.

Last year’s World Bank Africa’s Pulse report—which is focused on the economic impact of climate change adaption on sub-Saharan Africa—found that the African continent’s mean surface temperature has risen at an even faster pace than that of the rest of the world, with 2020 being the fourth-warmest year since 1910. Rises in temperature and rainfall changes have fueled an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events across the continent and at a faster pace than in the rest of the world. Drought frequency nearly tripled, the number of storms quadrupled and floods increased more than tenfold finds the report when comparing the period 1970-1979 to the period 2010-2019.

“We believe that human rights are at the core of solutions to people who are displaced or must migrate,” Abiodun-Badru said.

Event speakers included Elizabeth Ibarra, human rights defender with Asociación Coordinadora Comunitaria de Servicios (ACCSS) Guatemala; Alice Ncube, program director of the University of the Free State, South Africa, Africa Disaster Management Training and Education Centre (DiMTEC); Helena Olea, Alianza Americas associate director for programs and international human rights lawyer; Erika Pires Ramos, co-founder, South American Network for Environmental Migrations; Zoraya Urbina, regional advocacy and communications officer and gender focal point for Lutheran World Federation Central America; Alicia Wallace, director of Equality Bahamas; and Mariana Williams, director of the Institute of Law and Economics (ILE), Jamaica.

Panelists emphasized the importance of addressing environmental racism and applying the lens of intersectional environmentalism to a cross-movement fight for climate and gender justice. Intersectional environmentalism—a term largely inspired by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and her work with intersectional feminism—is an inclusive form of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of all people and the planet, and identifies the ways in which injustices affecting marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.

A recent analysis finds that, although the Global North is overwhelmingly responsible for the climate crisis, contributing 92 percent of excess global carbon dioxide emission, the Global South shoulders most of the devastation. For example, 80 percent of environmental impacts generated by Europe’s textile consumption takes place outside Europe.

Watch the recording here.

‘Climate Justice Is for Everyone,’ Say Unions

‘Climate Justice Is for Everyone,’ Say Unions

Climate justice activists are increasingly under attack across the globe by governments acting in concert with private interests, a trend that threatens civic freedoms for all, says the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in a new report.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association Clément N. Voule

UN Special Rapporteur Clément N. Voule delivered the report to the UN General Assembly last week and then discussed its findings at a virtual side event October 15.  At the event, Voule outlined the escalating threats to climate activists and their organizations, including criminalization of peaceful protests—the foundation of grassroots human rights advocacy campaigns. Of special concern, he said, are the use of state agencies and legislatures by private interests to impede or eliminate environmental defenders through physical attacks, intimidation, imprisonment and other judicial harassment, as well as restrictions on funding and travel to international climate justice venues.

More than 70 percent of human rights defenders killed each year are standing up for the environment, he said.

The report found a pattern of escalating threats that are undermining the effectiveness of environmental activists and their organizations worldwide, such as:

  • Violence and intimidation
  • The use of national security laws to surveil, charge or imprison environmental activists
  • An increasing number of bans and restrictions against formerly legal protest methods, such as road blocking
  • Ramped-up public smear campaigns that destroy activists’ reputations by painting them as extremists, foreign agents or terrorists

The report cited “powerful actors, including transnational fossil fuel, extractive, agribusiness and financial institutions,” that are pressuring governments to weaken their climate response and which “have supported parastatal organizations engaging in a variety of campaigns against climate justice activists, including online and direct violence.”

However, said Voule at the side event, “We must change the narrative. Environmental activists are not the enemy.”

The side event was led by Voule in cooperation with Earthrights International, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), Geneva Academy, Greenpeace International, International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Solidarity Center. The event was moderated by Greenpeace International Legal Counsel Daniel Simon. Presenters included Permanent Mission of Costa Rica to the UN in New York Ambassador Rodrigo Carazo; Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Michael Gaffey; Earthrights International Climate Change Policy Adviser Natalia Gomez; First Nation Couchiching and U.S.-based Giniw Collective Founder Tara Houska; economist and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Labor Market Policy Coordinator Lebogang Mulaisi and Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake.

COSATU Labor Market Policy Coordinator Lebogang Mulaisi

COSATU is joining the climate justice fight, said panelist Lebogang Mulaisi, because working people—especially those in the informal sector unfairly unprotected by labor laws and excluded from social safety nets—are the group most impacted by climate change. Unions are natural allies of defenders of community environmental rights because workers are from communities, she said.

“Climate justice is for everyone, and climate justice is now,” she said.

Unions will ally with the environmental justice movement to defend everyone’s rights, Mulaisi added, because they can only fight effectively for decent jobs while retaining the right to legally mobilize “mass social power” when negotiations at the conference table fail.

All states must ensure that all workers are guaranteed the right to associate, including the right to strike, and to bargain collectively at all levels, including over matters related to climate change and just transitions, recommends the report.

Unions Are Integral to the Climate Justice Movement

The report finds that unions are integral to states’ efforts to meet the objectives of the legally-binding Paris Agreement, which calls for states to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights” and rights of indigenous peoples, as well as to take into account “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”

Unions are helping states achieve these objectives by:

  • Advocating for a just-transition agenda, which is a worker-led framework demanding a fair and democratic approach from governments that are shifting their economies to sustainable production—including application of a range of social interventions that are needed to secure worker rights and livelihoods
  • Advancing a climate justice agenda and influencing employers at workplace, sectoral, national and international levels to transition to clean energy and address environmental degradation.

The effectiveness of workers and unions to drive inclusive climate solutions is being hampered by issues that must be addressed and resolved, including:

  • Regular exclusion of unions and workers from critical climate discussions and policy design and planning, such as those associated with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and job-loss mitigation projects developed under the Paris Agreement
  • Through the exclusion of large swaths of workers from labor laws, barriers to those workers’ right to exercise freedom of association and peaceful assembly—with migrant workers and those employed in agricultural or informal sectors, or by foreign investors, being especially vulnerable.

Governments and employers must engage with workers and their organizations to develop climate and just transition policies, says the report because “[a]ddressing the climate crisis and ensuring a just transition require the existence of a vibrant and dynamic civil society.”

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