Benchmarking corporate Just Transition policies gives auto manufacturers like Tesla a low score

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) announced in February that will combine its existing Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking  with its Climate and Energy Benchmarking of global corporations, to produce a Just Transition Benchmark Assessment .  The WBA has a practical objective:

“Trade unions and civil society organisations can use the transparency provided by these assessments to hold companies accountable, and governments can use them as evidence to inform policy making for a just transition. Additionally, investors and the companies themselves will be able to use the assessments as a roadmap to move towards practices to ensure no one is left behind in the decarbonisation and energy transformation.”

Assessing a just transition: measuring the decarbonisation and energy transformation that leaves no one behind  outlines the methodology of this new assessment exercise and invites stakeholders to contribute in an ongoing process till 2023. The proposed outcome is to publish Just Transition Benchmark assessments of approximately 450 companies in high-emitting sectors – in publicly available rankings,  as are the many other reports of the World Benchmarking Alliance. Assessing a just transition also includes results from a pilot project of the automotive sector to illustrate how the Just Transition assessments will be done. It synthesizes the findings from the WBA Automotive Benchmarking for 2020  with its Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking .

Global auto manufacturers are racing to produce electric vehicles, but are they respecting workers’ rights?

In combining the findings of the two existing benchmarking initiatives, Assessing a just transition states: “…. Some companies that demonstrated action on climate issues, such as low-carbon transition plans, emissions reduction targets and climate change oversight, disclosed very little, if any, information on how they manage human rights, and vice versa. This lack of correlation suggests that many automotive manufacturers still consider climate and human rights issues separately, to be addressed independently of each other, despite the fact that they are increasingly recognised as interconnected.”

A brief case study highlight of Tesla states:  “….. when observing the company’s approach to managing human rights, Tesla scores in the bottom third of companies assessed in the CHRB with an overall score of 6.3/100. This approach has come under recent scrutiny, with a 2020 shareholder resolution demanding Tesla improve its disclosures on human rights governance, due diligence and remedy. While the resolution did not pass (24.8% voted in favour), it highlights that even when a company contributes to decarbonisation, a lack of essential human rights policies and processes to prevent abuse of communities and workers cannot be overlooked.”

Related reports:

The WBA  Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking Report for 2020 Key Findings  includes five sectors: Agricultural products, Apparel, Extractives & ICT manufacturing – and for the first time ever, 30 companies in the Automotive manufacturing sector.   The report states: “The average score for automotive companies is 12%, the lowest score ever for a CHRB-benchmarked sector. Two thirds of the companies scored 0 across all human rights due diligence indicators. These poor results suggest implementation of the UNGPs is weak across the sector.”

Twenty-five “keystone” companies in the automotive industry have been benchmarked for their progress towards Paris goals since 2019. Results of the 2020 report are here , and a blog in December 2020 summarizes the results in  “A tale of two automotive companies: sluggish incumbents and opaque disruptors in the race to zero-emissions vehicles”.

 

Australian companies are moving to renewable energy to meet employee expectations for climate action

reenergizingREenergising Australian business: the corporate race to 100% renewable energy was released by  Greenpeace Australia Pacific on December 4.

Drawing on public information as well as 34 responses to a survey sent to 80 “big-brand” companies, the report presents analysis of the corporate move to renewable energy, covering seven major industry sectors, as well as case studies of individual companies. Of the 80 companies profiled: 30% have committed to move to 100% renewable energy ;  26% have signed a corporate power purchase agreement , and  65% have invested in rooftop or onsite solar.

Regarding job creation: The report estimates the impact if companies moved to 100% renewable energy to power their operations: for 3 of Australia’s largest companies  (Woolworths, Coles and Telstra)  it would create 4194 construction job-years and 232 ongoing jobs ; the 10 largest companies in the property and construction sector would create more than 1000 construction job-years, and the 14 largest telecommunications, IT, and technology companies would create around 2000 construction job-years.

What is driving the corporate move to renewables? “The UComms polling found 67% of Australians would prefer to work for a company that uses renewable energy, rather than one that doesn’t, while 100% of companies surveyed by Greenpeace reported that a key reason for shifting to renewable energy is employee expectation. In 2019, the Edelman Trust Barometer found 67% of employees “expect that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues” and 76% say “CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.”

Business responsibilities for climate change: U.S. Roundtable nods, U.N. sets a high bar

The U.S. Business Roundtable generated headlines and surprised reaction with the August 19th release of a new Statement of Purpose,  signed by 181 CEO’s of high-profile companies including Amazon, Walmart, Bank of America, Lockheed Martin, Morgan Stanley, UPS, and others. That statement redefines their shared, overarching corporate goal from “delivering value for shareholders” to  promoting “An Economy That Serves All Americans” – including by: “supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.” …“Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.”

The full Business Roundtable Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, with signatories, is here ;  case studies of member corporations’ social responsibility initiatives are outlined in Building Communities, Meeting Challenges .

A higher bar for business

In contrast to the Business Roundtable statement, scant attention was paid to an international call for human rights and climate justice, released in July. The Safe Climate Report  provides a guide to the obligations of States and the responsibilities of businesses under international agreements and law, regarding the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation, rights of the child, right to a healthy environment, and rights of vulnerable populations.

The Safe Climate Report, as well as the June 2019 U.N. Report  on extreme poverty and climate change by Philip Alston, are the subject of a September 4 article in The Conversation Canadian edition, “Climate change, poverty and human rights: an emergency without precedent” . The authors state that “The Alston report suggests that the only way to address the human rights dimensions of climate crisis is for states to effectively regulate businesses and for those harmed by climate change to successfully sue responsible companies in court. ….  “the Safe Climate report goes further…”

Specifically, the Safe Climate Report states:

“Businesses must adopt human rights policies, conduct human rights due diligence, remedy human rights violations for which they are directly responsible, and work to influence other actors to respect human rights where relationships of leverage exist. As a first step, corporations should comply with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as they pertain to human rights and climate change…. The five main responsibilities of businesses specifically related to climate change are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their own activities and their subsidiaries; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their products and services; minimize greenhouse gas emissions from their suppliers; publicly disclose their emissions, climate vulnerability and the risk of stranded assets; and ensure that people affected by business-related human rights violations have access to effective remedies.90 In addition, businesses should support, rather than oppose, public policies intended to effectively address climate change.”  (page 19/20).

Legal obligations of States:

The discussion in this report is also highly relevant to any litigation against states or companies regarding climate change, as well as for the rights of Indigenous peoples and children.  Boyd concludes:

“A failure to fulfill international climate change commitments is a prima facie violation of the State’s obligations to protect the human rights of its citizens. As global average temperatures rise, even more people’s rights will be violated, and the spectre of catastrophic runaway climate chaos increases. There is an immense gap between what is needed to seriously tackle the global climate emergency and what is being done.

A dramatic change of direction is needed. To comply with their human rights obligations, developed States and other large emitters must reduce their emissions at a rate consistent with their international commitments. To meet the Paris target of limiting warming to 1.5°C, States must submit ambitious nationally determined contributions by 2020 that will put the world on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030 (as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). All States should prepare rights-based deep decarbonization plans intended to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement. Four main categories of actions must be taken: addressing society’s addiction to fossil fuels; accelerating other mitigation actions; protecting vulnerable people from climate impacts; and providing unprecedented levels of financial support to least developed countries and small island developing States.”

The Safe Climate Report  (formally titled The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment)  was submitted to the U.N. General Assembly,  written by Canadian human rights scholar and U.N. Special Rapporteur David R. Boyd, whose 2012 book, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights and the Environment,  stands as a landmark study in environmental law.  The Special Rapporteur’s Report was informed by a consultation period in 2019 in which States and organizations were invited to participate – the few which did are posted here . (Neither  Canada nor the U.S. were among the countries which submitted).  Two noteworthy organizational submissions available are from Canada’s Ecojustice, and Our Children’s Trust (U.S.)  on the issue of intergenerational responsibility and youth. A separate report by Special Rapporteur John Knox discussed The Children’s Rights and the Environment in 2018, and it may be significant the  concluding sentence of the Safe Climate Report uses Greta Thunberg’s famous words,  “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

FTQ shareholder resolution calls for GHG targets aligned with the Paris Agreement; corporations respond with a charge of “micromanagement”

As part of its stated Action Plan for Engaging in a Just Energy Transition , the Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec  (FTQ) (an investment fund controlled by Quebec trade unions) put forward the following shareholder’s resolution  at the Cenovus Energy Annual Meeting in Calgary in April.  (The text of the resolution appears on page 51, as Appendix A in the company’s Information Circular):

Resolved: That Cenovus Energy Inc. (“Cenovus”) set and publish science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets that are aligned with the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. These targets should cover the direct and indirect methane and other GHG emissions of Cenovus’ operations over medium and long-term time horizons. Such targets should be quantitative, subject to regular review, and progress against such targets should be reported to shareholders on an annual basis.

The Board’s written response and recommendation  states “…..Cenovus has always and will continue to assess our approach to climate change risk management with a view to maximizing shareholder value. ….Achieving the level of commitment contemplated by the Paris Agreement requires an integrated plan at a national and global level, with policies to guide the actions of governments, individuals and corporations to collectively work together toward the desired outcome. Our view is that it is an overly demanding request, and contrary to the best interests of shareholder value, to require an individual company to unilaterally set targets….   As such, we recommend voting against the proposal.”  And sure enough, as expected, the FTQ proposal was defeated by an  89% vote against. The news is summarized  and in The Energy Mix  and  by the CBC  .

The  Fonds de Solidarité des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ), along with the Canadian shareholders’ non-profit  SHARE, was also part of the recent resolution to Exxon . That resolution, filed in the U.S.  by a group of investors led by the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Church Commissioners for England, proposed that the company develop “short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse gas targets aligned with the goals established by the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.”  In response,  ExxonMobil   applied for and received permission from the  U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), allowing it to exclude the resolution from its Proxy Circular.  In retaliation, SHARE states in a blog, Why we’ll vote against Exxon’s entire board of directors, that it is “recommending to our proxy voting clients that they withhold their support for all Exxon directors at the upcoming annual general meeting on May 29th.”

The “Micromanaging” argument:  “Investors Worried About Climate Change Run Into New SEC Roadblocks” from Inside Climate News (May 3), in addition to providing a good overview of shareholder actions, explains: “The term “micromanage” has become the linchpin to objections by companies seeking to block these resolutions. The precedent was set last year when the SEC agreed with EOG Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas exploration company, that a resolution asking the company to adopt emissions goals had sought to “micromanage” the company.”  More in  “Exxon Shareholders want action on climate change: SEC calls it micromanagement”  in the Washington Post (May 8). According to the CBC report about the FTQ resolution at  Cenovus, the corporate CEO called the proposal “overly demanding”, and said  “we had challenges with the prescriptive nature of the proposal”,  echoing the industry’s language and strategy.

To stay up to date: The U.S. non-profit As you Sow  monitors corporate environmental and social responsibility, including climate change and the energy transition  – through  press releases  , reports, and an up-to-date database of resolutions .

Do electric vehicles create good green jobs? An Amnesty International report on Supply Chains says No

Tesla TruckNovember brought  exciting news about electric vehicles:  BYD,  one of China’s leading electric carmakers, announced that it will open an assembly plant in a yet-to-be-announced location in Ontario in 2018, (though according to the Globe and Mail article,   the new plant will only create about 40 jobs to start ).  Also in mid-November, Tesla revealed a concept design for  an  electric truck in an glitzy release by Elon Musk , and the Toronto Transit Commission announced its plan to buy its first electric buses, aiming for an  emissions-free fleet by 2040.    Unnoticed in the enthusiasm for these announcements was a report released by Amnesty International on November 15:    Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain  which concludes : “ Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).” (That earlier report was This is what we die for   released in January 2016) .

Under the heading “The Darker side of Green Technology”, Time to Recharge states: “Renault and Daimler performed particularly badly, failing to meet even minimal international standards for disclosure and due diligence, leaving major blind spots in their supply chains. BMW did the best among the electric vehicle manufacturers surveyed.”   Tesla was also surveyed and ranked for its human rights and supply chain management; Tesla’s policies are described in its response to Amnesty International here.  And further, Tesla has come in for suggestions of  anti-union attitudes  in “Critics Suggest Link to Union Drive After Tesla Fires 700+ Workers” , in  The Energy Mix (Oct. 23), and in an article in Cleantechnica , and for discriminatory policies in “The Blue-Collar Hellscape of the Startup Industry“, published in In these Times and re-posted in Portside.

The Amnesty International report is a result of a survey of 29 companies, including consumer electronics giants Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Lenovo, and Microsoft, as well as electric vehicle manufacturers BMW, Renault and Tesla.  Questions in the survey were based on the five-step due diligence framework set out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  Detailed responses from many of the surveyed companies are here.