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ILO issues guidance for safe, healthy, return to work during COVID-19

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Two guidance documents for creating safe and effective return-to-work conditions during the COVID-19  pandemic have been issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The Guidance Note  says that return to work policies need to be informed by a human-centred approach that puts peoples’ rights at the heart of economic, social and environmental policies. Social dialogue – bringing together governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations – will be critical in creating the effective policies and trust needed for a safe return to work.

The note draws on specialist ILO guidance documents and International Labour Standards, which provide a normative framework for creating a safe return to work. The document stresses that policy guidance should be embedded into national Occupational Safety and Health  (OSH) systems, as these create the basis for safe workplace environments. The guidance can therefore contribute to a culture of continuous, country-level improvement, in administration, institutions, laws and regulations, labour inspections, information gathering, and other areas.

Workers must feel safe at their workplaces, both from risks directly related to COVID-19, and indirect risks, including psychosocial issues and ergonomic risks related to working in awkward positions or with poor facilities when working from home, the guidelines say. They should have the right to remove themselves from any situation “which they have reasonable justification to believe presents an imminent and serious danger to their life or health”, and “shall be protected from any undue consequences”.

The document proposes that each specific work setting, job or group of jobs should be assessed before returning to work and that preventive measures should be implemented to ensure the safety and health of all workers according to a hierarchy of controls. For workers staying at home, the risk of infection in a work context can be eliminated; for all workers returning to workplaces, priority should be given to options that substitute hazardous situations for less hazardous ones, such as organizing virtual instead of physical meetings. When this is not possible a mix of engineering and organizational control measures will usually be required to prevent contagion, The specific measures to implement are specific to each workplace, but may consist of installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards, improving ventilation, or adopting flexible working hours, in addition to cleaning and hygiene practices. The guidelines also recall that the use of appropriate personal protective equipment may be required to complement other measures, in particular for the most hazardous occupations, and that this equipment should be provided without cost to workers.

The needs of workers at higher risk of severe illness should be taken into account; including older workers, pregnant workers, those with pre-existing medical conditions, refugees, migrants and those in the informal sector. Special attention will be needed to ensure that return to work policies do not create discrimination related to gender, health status, or other factors.

“Unsafe work practices anywhere are a threat to both health and sustainable business, everywhere. So, before returning to work, workers must be confident that they will not be exposed to undue risks,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO’s Deputy Director-General for Policy. “And, to help enterprises and economies get going as soon as possible, workers will need to cooperate with these new measures. This means that social dialogue will be particularly important because it is the most effective way to feed information and views into policies and actions, so creating the best chance for a swift and balanced recovery.”

The Guidance Note, A safe and healthy return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic , is accompanied by a 10-point, Practical Guidance action checklist for employers, workers and their representatives. This tool is intended to compliment and not replace national occupational safety and health regulations and guidance, to help establish the practical details of a safe return to work.

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Finance

European Innovation Council announces new wave of start-up champions

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The European Commission’s European Innovation Council has selected 65 innovative start-ups and SMEs to receive €363 million of funding for breakthrough innovations. Each company will receive a combination of grant financing and equity investment of up to €17 million to develop and scale up their ground-breaking innovations in healthcare, digital technologies, energy, biotechnology, space and other. This is the first batch of companies that will be funded under the fully-fledged European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “The EIC Accelerator is a unique European funding instrument of the European Innovation Council. It supports the development of top-class innovations through crowding-in private investors and offers a portfolio of services to support their scaling-up. With the European Innovation Council we aim to bring Europe to the forefront of innovation and new technologies, by investing in new solutions for the health, environmental and societal challenges we are facing.”

The companies were selected following a new two-step process, introduced under Horizon Europe. Applications are rigorously assessed by external experts and followed by an interview with a jury of experienced investors and entrepreneurs. Among the companies selected are:

  • Dutch Sensius BV that developed a thermotherapy system to treat the head and neck cancer without negative side effects;
  • French Alice & Bob that invented a new type of self-correcting quantum hardware to build the world’s first fault-tolerant commercial quantum computers;
  • Lithuanian UAB INOVATYVI MEDICINA that developed a smart, sensory, tele-operated robotic system, which allows an endovascular procedure to be performed without exposure to harmful X-rays;
  • Norwegian Bluegrove AS that introduced the most advanced salmon welfare monitoring and prediction solution to take care of fish welfare.

The 65 successful companies are established in 16 countries. The demand for equity financing through the new EIC Fund was particularly high, with 60 out of the 65 companies. This means that €227 million out of the total €363 million are expected to be in the form of investment component.

Background

The EIC Accelerator offers start-ups and SMEs grants of up to €2.5 million combined with equity investments through the EIC Fund ranging from €0.5 to €15 million. In addition to financial support, all projects benefit from a range of Business Acceleration Services that provide access to leading expertise, corporates, investors and ecosystem actors. 

The EIC was launched in March 2021 as a major novelty under the Horizon Europe programme, and following a successful pilot phase between 2018 and 2020. It has a budget of over €10 billion of which approximately €1.1 billion is available in 2021 for the EIC Accelerator. The majority is open to breakthrough innovations in any field, while €495 million is earmarked for Strategic Health and Digital technologies and Green Deal solutions.

There were two rounds of direct equity investments under the EIC Pilot earlier this year, in January and in June, with 111 highly innovative start-ups and SMEs receiving more than €500 million to scale up breakthrough innovations. Among them there were two ‘unicorn’ companies.

A new start-up friendly application process has been introduced this year, under Horizon Europe, where companies can submit their ideas at any time for an immediate fast assessment. Successful candidates are invited to prepare a full application with the help of free business coaching. The full applications are then evaluated at regular cut-off dates approximately every 3 months. Since March over 4,000 start-ups and SMEs have sent their ideas, of which 801 presented full applications to the first cut-off on 16 June 2021 and a further 1098 to the second cut-off on 6 October, which are now being assessed. The results of this second batch of EIC Accelerator companies will be announced by the end of the year and the next cut-off date is expected in the beginning of 2022.

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Environment

Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions

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The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.

Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”

The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.

Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”

Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”

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Tech News

Standards & Digital Transformation – Good Governance in a Digital Age

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In celebration of World Standards Day 2021, celebrated on 14 October every year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is pleased to announce the launch of a brochure, “Standards and Digital Transformation: Good Governance in the Digital Age”.

In the spirit of this year’s World Standards Day theme “Shared Vision for a Better World”, the brochure provides insights into the key drivers of the digital transformation and its implications for sustainable development, particularly people, prosperity and planet. Noting the rapid pace of change of the digital transformation, with the COVID-19 pandemic serving as an unanticipated accelerator, the brochure highlights the role of standards in digital transformation governance. It further considers the principles necessary for guiding the collaborative development of standards in the digital technology landscape to ensure that the technologies remain human-centered and aligned to the goals of sustainability.

This year’s World Standards Day theme highlights the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) representing a shared vision for peace and prosperity, for people and planet. Every SDG is a call for action, but we can only get there if we work together, and international standards offer practical solutions we can all stand behind.

This brochure is a summary of a publication set to be released in November 2021.

Download it here.

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