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Developments, stories and resources on employee activism
Greener transport, bullshit carbon offsets, protecting privacy, and more
Happy Hallowe’en folks.
The intersection between employees and climate-related issues has been pretty loudly in the news lately, with striking workers at three of the biggest car manufacturers in the US – General Motors, Ford and Stellantis – demanding (among other things) that the shift to electric vehicles not be used as an opportunity by those companies to lower labour standards.
At times the companies have tried to portray the workers as obstacles to or opponents of the green transition. In fact, employees at these companies (and their union, the United Auto Workers) were pushing for better environmental standards in the vehicles they were producing as far back as 1970. Further evidence that we wouldn’t be in half the mess we are on environmental and social issues if companies just listened to their employees more.
On which note, some employees at Volkswagen are going even further. They point out that while electric vehicles may be an improvement on the status quo, they’re still carbon- and resource-intensive to produce, and that simply replacing existing vehicles like-for-like is not sufficient. We need better public transport and to design our urban centres more around cycling and walking.
This newsletter marks the one-year anniversary edition of the Honest Work newsletter(!). This one will be the last instalment for a while with the newsletter going on temporary hiatus, in part to free me up to better pursue the fruits of my own employee activism in my professional life.
To keep you busy in the meantime, this newsletter is a rundown of some of the best resources out there on employee activism, packaged in just about every format you could possibly desire.
A story to read – An anonymous worker tells their story of successfully getting their tech company employer to drop a client, a biometrics identification company which the worker feared could be contributing to privacy breaches and human rights violations. Despite the happy ending, the worker points out that efforts to push for a more ethical company can be risky and lonely – anyone seeking to do something similar needs to walk in with their eyes open.
Something more topical – There’s been a lot of coverage in the past year about carbon offsetting and the many, many problems with the market for carbon credits as it currently operates. The New Yorker ran an exposé about a company in this space, South Pole. Employee activism is only a small part of this story, but nonetheless there’s inspiration to be had at the preparedness of some workers to speak up about shady practices, and even resign when all else fails. The gradual corruption of the company’s founder from idealist to ethically compromised is also an example of why employee activism is needed to keep companies honest.
Something to watch – This TED talk from last year gives a handy overview of employee activism. It points out how companies have been stating they welcome employees speaking up but when it comes to environmental and social issues they haven’t tended to seek or listen to employees’ views. The talk also includes a way to evaluate how companies have responded to employee activism.
Something lighter to watch - One of these films!
Something to listen to – For something a little bit more practical, this podcast goes over strategies for how employees can change their workplace from within, such as by visualising the problem, shrinking the change to something achievable, and appealing to existing values and identities within the company.
That should keep you busy for a little while. In any case, there’s so much content being produced these days that it’s quite easy to keep on reading and watching and never actually doing, so during this hiatus get out there and push for a change! The Honest Work website has lots of resources to help, and for more tailored support feel free to reach out directly at email@example.com .
Until we meet again.