A zero poverty, zero carbon world is possible and that’s the promise of global leaders with the 2015 decisions on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. The good news is, it could be good for jobs and global economic growth as well.
However, with a global workforce in trouble, historic levels of inequality, shrinking markets and increasing mistrust in democratic leadership, the realization of a sustainable planet and shared prosperity will take all of us to get involved. Governments, employers, trade unions and civil society must have confidence in national development plans that are developed through social dialogue and that guarantee a just transition for working people and their communities.
Trade unions understand there are no jobs on a dead planet but we will not stand by and accept stranded workers or stranded communities. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has established the Just Transition Centre to promote the social dialogue that ensures labor is at the table.
It will also take a reformed business model and a new social contract between employers and employees to get us to a sustainable world with sustainable jobs. Today, the global model of trade is broken. Only 60 percent of the world’s workforce are in formal employment and more than half of those are in low paid, insecure, often unsafe jobs with too often no social protection. And the other 40 percent are men and women who are struggling to survive in the informal economy, where there is no social protection, no guaranteed minimum wage, no rights, no rules of law and up to 45 million are in modern slavery.
The social contract that will deliver decent work is a simple recipe: social protection, secure employment, a minimum living wage, freedom of association and collective bargaining that facilitates shared prosperity and safety at work. It’s time for businesses to act when informal work and modern slavery are now appearing in the global supply chains of multinational companies. But major multi-national companies have gone to extreme lengths to outsource responsibility for what is now a ‘hidden workforce’ of up to 94 percent of workers in their supply chain. Therefore, there are workers who companies depend on for their profit, but take no responsibility for their exploitation and wages.
Our system of global trade is built on a model of labor arbitrage; when five cents on a €5.00 bunch of flowers would double the wages of Kenyan flower workers or three cents on the price of a melon would afford a minimum living wage to women in the Honduran melon plantations or two cents on a banana in Guatemala is all it would take for a minimum living wage, we are all witness to a global supply chain model that has generated a level of greed that sees corporations refusing to engage in dialogue and negotiations with workers.
The rules of the global economy must be rewritten and working people are demanding just that. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission report Better Business, Better World lays out the challenge for reform and the potential benefits of such. Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals could realize $12 trillion and millions of jobs. The goal is to have 1000 CEO’s sign up to the challenge.
The B Team openly advocates for CEO’s to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to put humanity back at the center of workplaces with its 100% human programme that is underpinned by the support of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. This is the leadership we need everywhere.
May 1 marks the historical struggle of working people for rights and social justice all around the world. It also serves to reaffirm the struggles of today. For the ITUC the Frontline priorities are to eliminate modern slavery, end corporate greed in our supply chains and ensure a just transition to zero carbon world for vulnerable working families. This is also vital to securing trust in a digital economy where the future of work looks even more uncertain.
We also declare that refugees are welcome and that rights and equality are fundamental to demonstrate that governments can and must respond to the frustration and the fears of working families.
A zero poverty, zero carbon world is worth having.
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation is a commissioner with the Business and Sustainability Commission and a B-Team leader.