BWI to Holcim: Participate in social dialogue with workers, not just yacht races

(Photo: Marion Hellmann)

“Holcim has money to join a super boat race and ‘commit’ to a circular economy, but what is the company doing to implement and promote good working conditions, and health and safety in its operations?”

This was the question raised by trade unionists as the multinational cement company Holcim joined this year’s Ocean Race, a yacht race around the world held every three or four years since 1973. Holcim said that it is participating in the racing event to “preserve the oceans with a call to action to accelerate the shift to circular living.”

In a statement, the cement giant claimed that it is going circular to decarbonise building for a net zero future. It also claimed that it is “reducing the footprint of buildings, with its green solutions, from low carbon concrete to solar roofs to build better with less.”

The Building and Woodworkers” International (BWI) said that while it supports the transition to a low-carbon economy and the achievement of the Paris climate protection goals, its affiliates have a different experience with Holcim. BWI said that despite claiming to be committed to a green future, the CEO of Holcim refuses to enter into negotiations for a Global Framework Agreement with global trade unions that would provide the needed social dimension and a just transition for its supposed green roadmap.

BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson explained that this allows Holcim to continue to violate workers' rights with total impunity when workers only demand protection of their jobs, safety and health at work and an end to extensive subcontracting.

"Holcim should not forget that a just transition can only be achieved if decarbonising efforts go hand in hand with respect for internationally recognised core labour standards. It is the height of hypocrisy that many multinationals showcase their so-called commitments to CO2 emissions reduction but do not respect the most basic labour rights such as workplace health and safety, collective bargaining and freedom of association in their direct operations and across their suppliers,” Yuson said.

BWI demanded Holcim to engage in genuine social dialogue with trade unions in its commitments to a just transition. It said that Holcim should include the cement workers it directly employs, as well as the thousands of sub-contracted workers who create the company’s profits, in its shift towards a more sustainable, social and climate-friendly production of cement and concrete.

“We believe that this is the more worthwhile and strategic initiative that Holcim should undertake instead of yacht races where it only pays lip service to a carbon-neutral future absent of workers’ rights,” Yuson said. 

Last year, three workers died and several others, all employed by subcontractors, were critically injured when a fire broke out at the Hima Cement factory, a subsidiary of Holcim, in the Kasese District of Western Uganda. BWI said that the incident is just the latest flagrant example of work-related accidents in different Holcim cement plants which have injured and claimed the lives of many workers.