Who could disagree that a progressive development agenda provides an essential route to social justice? Certainly nobody participating in the Green Labour panel discussion on sustainable development and poverty reduction at the Fabian Summer Conference did, but there was a variety of views on the best way forward.
The relationship between economic development and climate change mitigation is one key debating point.
For me, the question that resonates for both the developing and developed world is what kind of growth do we want to see? It would be wrong for western economies to restrict the benefits of economic growth, but we do need a policy framework that allows other economies to grow whilst respecting the environment. As recognised by the UN climate summit in Cancun, a process of just transition would ensure that public policy interventions support workers and communities in the transition to new livelihoods. But to make this work, we need a constructive dialogue between governments, employers and workers, as well as international standards. It’s pleasing to see that the International Labour Organisation has started work on this agenda.
Renegotiation of a new global framework to succeed the millennium development goals (MDGs) must ensure integration with sustainable development goals (SDGs). This framework must be underpinned by core labour standards including the right to a collective voice, social protection and the right to fairly paid work in a safe environment.
Putting our own house in order is important too. According to the Committee on Climate Change, UK carbon emissions rose by 3.5 per cent last year – but this is only part of the picture. The UK imports more carbon that we produce due to the energy embedded in imports of everything from food to smart phones and wind turbines. The UK’s carbon footprint has grown by 10 per cent since 1993 as manufacturing has hollowed out.
Another key debate concerns the role of direct lobbying on governments and business. This is a tool to be used with care, given the potentially disastrous consequences for families and communities of removing access even to the worst imaginable employment conditions. So it’[s worth reflecting on why 70 of the world’s biggest retail and textile companies have signed the global union accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh following the fire in the Rana Plaza complex. It’s no coincidence that many of these companies are British, given the long track record of union engagement with corporate supply chains, and involvement in the tripartite Ethical Trading Initiative.
This should make a real difference to workers’ lives, especially if backed by stronger employment law. It is a clear example of the value added by union and NGO involvement. Environmental NGOs have been powerful advocates and campaigners for just transition. For example, the ‘blue-green alliance’ in the USA is a national partnership of labour unions and environmental organisations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in what they describe as the ‘clean’ economy. Sadly, there’s a world of difference between the lamentable track record of our self-styled “greenest government ever” and President Obama’s commitment to safeguarding communities, creating good jobs and building a stronger economy by addressing the reality of climate change today.
Sue Ferns was part of our Fabian Summer conference on Green Labour.