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  .

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. 

Proposals for a green transition that is just and inclusive in Ontario

decent_work_in_the_green_economy-coverDecent Work in the Green Economy, released on October 11 , combines research on green transitions worldwide with the reality of  labour market trends in Ontario, and includes economic modelling of  Ontario’s cap and trade program, conducted by EnviroEconomics and Navius Research.  The resulting analysis identifies which sectors are expected to grow strongly under a green transition (e.g. utilities and waste management and remediation),  which will see lower growth (e.g. petroleum refining and petrochemical production), and which will see a transformation of skills requirements (e.g. mining, manufacturing, and  forestry). Section 3 of the report discusses the impacts on job quality (including wages, benefits, unionization, and job permanence), as well as skills requirements.  The general discussion in Section 3 is supplemented by two detailed Appendices about the employment impacts by economic sector,  and by disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups (which includes racialized workers, Indigenous people, workers with disabilities, newcomers, women, and rural Ontarians.) A final  Appendix describes the modelling behind the analysis, which projects employment impacts of low carbon technologies by 2030.

The paper calls for a comprehensive Just Transition Strategy for Ontario, and proposes  six core elements illustrated by case study “success stories”.   These case studies include the Solar City Program in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (which uses local supply chains and accounted for local employment impacts), and the UK Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy (which incorporated diversity goals and explicit targets in workforce development and retraining initiatives).  An important element of the recommended Just Transition Strategy includes a dedicated Green Transitions Fund, to transfer funding for targeted programs to communities facing disproportionate job loss; to universities or colleges to provide specialized academic programs; to social enterprise or service providers to carry out re-training programs; to directly impacted companies to invest in their employees; and to individuals in transition (much like EI payments).

The authors also call for better data collection to measure and monitor the link between green economy policies and employment outcomes, and better mechanisms for regular, ongoing dialogue.  This call for ongoing dialogue seems intended to provide a role for workers (and unions, though they are less often mentioned). The authors state: “No effort to ensure decent work in the green economy will be successful without meaningfully engaging workers who are directly impacted by the transition, to understand where and how they might need support. Just as important will be the ongoing engagement with employers and industry to understand the changing employment landscape, and how workers can best prepare for it.” And, on page 39,  “Public policy will be a key driver in ensuring that this transition is just and equitable. …. Everyone has a role to play in this transition. Governments, employers, workers, unions and non-profit organizations alike must remember that if we fail to ensure that the green transition is just and inclusive, we will have missed a vital opportunity to address today’s most pressing challenges. But if we design policies and programs that facilitate this transition with decent work in mind, they have the potential to benefit all Ontarians.”

Decent Work in the Green Economy was published by the  Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, in cooperation with the Smart Prosperity Institute at the University of Ottawa.  In addition to economic modelling, the analysis and policy discussion is based on an extensive literature review as well as expert interviews and input from government, industry, labour and social justice representatives. Part of the purpose of the report is to initiate discussion “between those actively supporting the transition to a green economy and those advocating for decent work” as defined by the ILO.  Further, the report states: “ Importantly, this conversation must address the need for equal opportunities among historically disadvantaged and equity-seeking groups who currently face barriers to accessing decent work.”

A shorter work week can slow climate change in a post-growth economy

Two recent articles have been added to the long-standing discussion of the “degrowth” movement – including about the potential of a shorter work week to make an impact on climate change.  In relation to their recently published book, “Just Cool It! The Climate Crisis and What we can do , David Suzuki and co-author Ian Hanington posted a blog  item on on May 11: “Long work hours don’t work for people or the planet” . The article describes  “a seemingly endless cycle of toil and consumerism” which has been the norm throughout the 20th century,  and  says “It’s time to pause and consider better ways to live”.  They reference the U.K. thinktank New Economics Foundation, which in 2010 proposed “21 Hours – the case for a shorter work week” , arguing that a shorter work week would address a number of interconnected problems: “overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”   The Suzuki/Hanington article also refers to “Reducing work hours as a means of slowing climate change”  published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington D.C. in 2013. The author, David Rosnick, used economic modelling to argue that reducing average annual hours by just 0.5% per year through shorter workweeks and increased vacation would “likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming which is not yet locked-in.”

Another recent article, “How to kick the growth addiction”  was posted at The Great Transition Initiative website and re-posted by Resilience on May 17.  The article is a transcript of an interview with  ecological economist Tim Jackson   , the author of the classic book,  Prosperity Without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow. It provides some insight into Jackson’s latest thinking  about a “post-growth” economy .  He states: “Can we imagine an economy in which enterprise provides outputs that enable people to flourish without destroying ecosystems; where work offers respect, motivation, and fulfillment to all; where investment is prudential in terms of securing long-term prosperity for all humanity; and where systems of borrowing, lending, and creating money are firmly rooted in long-term social value creation rather than in trading and speculation?” The second edition of  Prosperity without Growth was released in 2017, discussing four pillars of a post-growth economy—enterprise as service, work as participation, investment as commitment, and money as a social good.

Clean Energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels, with a wage premium

Following on the January 2017  report US Energy and Employment  from the U.S. Department of Energy, more evidence of the healthy growth of the clean energy industry comes in a report  by the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps and Meister consultants.  Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs    compiles the latest statistics from diverse sources,  and concludes that “sustainability” accounts for an estimated 4.5 million jobs (up from 3.4 million in 2011) in the U.S. in 2015. Sustainability jobs are defined as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as waste reduction, natural resources conservation and environmental education, vehicle manufacturing, public sector, and corporate sustainability jobs.  Statistics drill down to wages and working conditions – for example,  average wages for energy efficiency jobs are almost $5,000 above the national median, and wages for solar workers are above the national median of $17.04 per hour.  Comparing clean energy with the fossil fuel industry, the report states that the  1.4 million jobs  in energy efficiency construction and installation alone is more than double the number of workers in fossil fuel mining, extraction and electric power generation combined.  Now Hiring states that for every $1 million invested in building retrofits and industrial efficiency,  8 direct or indirect jobs are created;  in comparison,  3 are created by a comparable investment in the fossil fuel industry. This final comparison of job multiplier effect  is based on  “Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model”  by Heidi Garrett Pelletier at PERI, and appears in the February 2017 issue of Economic Modelling.

UNFCC Report on Just Transition highlights the work of the ACW

A new technical report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( UNFCCC) “will deepen the international community’s understanding of the need to consider the impact of climate policies on workers, and the essential role that labour unions have in combatting climate change,” according to Carla Lipsig Mummé, in a press release  at the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) website. Professor Lipsig Mummé, ACW Project Director and Principal Investigator,  was responding to the recognition in the UNFCC report of  ACW’s unique online database of green collective agreements  from Canada,  the  UK, Australia and the U.S..  “I am delighted that our research, produced through a collaboration of academic and organized labour researchers funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, has contributed to intergovernmental climate change negotiations through the UNFCCC” she stated.

The UNFCC report, Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs describes itself as a step-by-step, “how-to”  guide for Parties, in particular developing country Parties. It  provides a detailed description of the actions and policies of  international organizations such as the UNEP and ILO, but also catalogues the research documents of various sources, including international organizations, research institutes and advocacy groups.   It  utilizes a framework of the qualitative and quantitative impacts of climate change on jobs, and organizes its discussion of mitigation policies using the five principles of a Just Transition, established in the ILO‘s report, Guidelines for a Just Transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all (2015)  .  The contribution of the labour movement is clearly acknowledged.

At a  meeting of ACW international researchers in Vancouver in November, concerns about Just Transition for workers impacted by climate change mitigation measures were high on the agenda. Participants noted with concern that governments are skirting their obligation to assist workers in the transition to a low-carbon economy.