Sharan Burrow has been the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation since 2010. In her role she represents 200 million workers in 163 countries and territories with 331 national affiliates and is the first woman to have this position. Sharan Burrow has been the person behind some of the biggest union negotiations regarding labour rights and economic reforms both in Australia and internationally.
Before becoming the General Secretary of the ITUC, Sharan held other leadership positions in the organisation. She also led the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) from 2000 to 2010. Her role as President saw the introduction of Paid Paternal Leave in Australia, a huge win for women’s rights.
As an advocate for the environment, labour rights, and women’s rights, Sharan’s career has taken her to important positions including a Board Member of the UN Global Compact, Panel Member of UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Vice Chair of the B Team, Commissioner for the New Climate Economy, Ambassador for the Food and Land Use Coalition, the Wellbeing Alliance, the World Benchmarking Alliance, Chair of the Just Transition Centre and Member of the WEF Global Future Council on the Future of Production. Moreover, she was also the co-chair of the inaugural WEF Global Technology Governance Summit in 2021.
Sharan Burrow was born in New South Wales to a family very active in the labour movement. She graduated from the University of New South Wales in teaching.
How to fix a broken labour market (March 2021)
As the World Economic Forum convenes this week will people and their environment be centre stage? (January 2021)
Summary of the debate between Max Roser and Jason Hickel (December 2019)
The ILO Centenary Declaration https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed\_norm/@relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms\_711674.pdf
Click here for Edited Highlights
Michael Liebreich: Before we get started, please remember to like or subscribe to this video or podcast, it really helps others to find Cleaning Up. Cleaning Up is brought to you by Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, representing over 200 million workers around the world. Let's bring Sharan Burrow into the conversation. So, Sharan, welcome to Cleaning Up.
Sharan Burrow: It's nice to see you after this year of enforced confinement.
ML: Well, that's right. So normally, we meet on the fringes of things like COP meetings, Davos, and so on. But obviously, for the last 18 months or so, none of that has really been happening. But perhaps we can start by you just explaining to our audience, what is the International Trade Union Congress. Probably everybody comes into it with some idea of what unions are and what you do, but perhaps we should hear that straight from you.
SB: Well, the ITUC is indeed the global body of trade union organizations. So, if you are in the UK, then your union is liable to belong to the TUC. Or if you're in Australia, it’s the Australian Council of Trade Unions, or in America, the American Federation of Labor, and so all of those organizations come under our umbrella. So, it's the way we aggregate workers’ power and influence on the global stage. So, we have around 220 million members formally. But indeed, while we're in most countries, we don't only represent workers in the way we think about policy and action for the world who are formally unionized, of course, they are always in our sights, and we try to support their campaigns and their bargaining collectively with employers or lobbying with their government. But the world is such now that we have a broken labor market. So, you know, we try to speak for all workers, as we look for the ways to repair what is a broken world of labor, in, frankly, a failed economic model. It hasn't served people well, and it hasn't served the climate well. So that's the world I inhabit.
ML: And let's talk about those kind of changes in the labor markets. You know, you've made a number of state statements about how it's broken, but it's also changing very rapidly. And I'm thinking in particular, because, you know, we've just seen the IPO, the initial public offering of Deliveroo, and also a few weeks ago, a High Court ruling that Uber had to consider its drivers as workers. But it seems to me that the biggest change was, you know, you may agree or you may not, that some of the biggest changes in the structure of work is this kind of trend towards the gig economy. And I would argue that it's maybe wrong-footed the union movement to some extent, is that fair? And is that something you work on?
SB: Well, let me describe first of all the global context, because platform business, and part of that is the gig economy, but it's actually the use of technology platforms, is actually breaking down formal employment almost everywhere, but at the moment in small margins because the number of people who can actually work virtually is not so high. Like, you know, there was a big explosion of telework with COVID-19. But in fact, about 18% of the world's people are working remotely for some portion of their week, and about 30% maximum would be our prediction. But you have to put that in context. Because in the context of a world where 60% of work is now classified as informal work, there's no minimum wage, no social protection, no rule of law. And that means people have to earn money on a day-to-day basis just to survive. That is not just now in the developed world, it's in the developing world. It's actually in the developed world. And the platform business you talk about spans the bridge between formal and informal work, because in fact, it's technically informal until you see the employment relation decisions like the UK court and Uber, then what those businesses are really doing is saying, well, we're going to make money of labor. But in fact, we're not going to take any responsibility for, you know, the normal wages, or benefits or, you know, negotiations with workers around safety or whatever it might be. Now, in that platform business, there are different sorts of work, of course, one is the more physical work of, you know, driving, the Deliveroo’s delivering food and parcels, and so on that sort of transport and logistics arm if you like, whereas you've got almost every profession, whether it's journalism, legal, health, you know, accountancy, all being broken down to internet contracts at the base level. Now, part of that is really about how the people survive without employment protections. And I'll come back to that, because then you've got 40% of the world who, presumably are the working elites, because they have a formal contract. But I can tell you that a third of those workers are indeed working in very precarious situations. You know, you've seen zero hours contracts in the UK, short-term contracts, precarious part-time jobs, often low paid, and if COVID-19 did anything, it actually showed us that, you know, low paid workers are often the backbone of our communities, particularly health and service, transport workers, and predominantly women. So, we can clean up the labor market very easily. And even before COVID-19, we had a twin crisis, Michael, we had historic levels of inequality, in part because of the breakdown in the labor market conditions. And if you think just in simple terms, the world was somewhere between four and seven times richer, depends how you calculate it, since the 80s. And yet, labor income share was like a roller coaster, just going downwards. And so that in itself created, you know, this historic levels of inequality, in large part because of the hyper-globalization since the 80s. And no one knows about, you know, the economics of the global economy better than you. But it actually meant that the more you had capital flight going from country to country looking for lower and lower wages, the more you had an exploitative set of supply chain. So that's the labor market, we lived with before COVID-19. And of course, the climate emergency. But we had put in place a negotiation at the ILO, the Centenary Declaration, with employers, with workers, with governments, that said, all workers irrespective of that employment arrangement have to have basic labor rights and protection. So that means fundamental rights, you know what they are, they are freedom of association, so hotly contested, particularly in the US the right to bargain collectively and to organize, the right to be free of discrimination, child and forced labor. But equally, workers should have occupational health and safety, a minimum living wage, evidence-based on which they can live with dignity and raise a family. And, of course, maximum hours of work, some protection over working time, particularly in this explosive, technological age. That's the world I live in and try to, you know, bring to the table on big issues like climate and the reform of the economic model.
ML: Okay, now, you packed a lot in there, much of which I agree with, and some of which I probably take issue with. But let's try to unpack it into a few things because you did something tremendous there at the beginning. Yeah, I'd started with Oh, it's, you know, Uber and Deliveroo. But of course, you know, in much of the world, that's a complete irrelevance and labor, you know, what workers … live hand to mouth, or they live on short-term contracts, or they're doing piecework… the economy, in some ways, is structured the same way that the economy in the UK or Australia might have been a century ago in terms of the pattern of work for most people. And so I don't think that these trends, you know, we now talk about the gig economy. Well, that's just piecework. And we talk about zero-hour contracts. Well, that's just you know, I did those when I was when I was a student, you know, that's just called temp work, right? Or in some way. So, these are not new issues. And they're very challenging, but you know, you then… so that was the first part is I don't think, you know, I think we've got to broaden it to look globally. You're quite right. The second thing though, that you sort of segued from there into talking about inequality, which is very, you know, which is contentious, right? Because the other side of it is that hundreds of millions of people have been brought out of poverty during that period and there's a very strong argument that they did that through globalization, not through, you know, you would call it exploitation, but I would call it spreading of opportunity to hundreds of millions of people, you know, obviously in China, but not just in China, you can look at the growth rates in Africa, in the last, you know, prior to COVID, which has its own… we're going to get onto that. You know, there's been an enormous democratization of wealth. The inequalities, a lot of it is dominated by the discourse about, you know, Jeff Bezos, who's worth a trillion, whatever. But you know, so what… was worth however much. But the point is surely that hundreds of millions of people are living better, you know, tens of millions of girls are in school, and health care has been delivered to hundreds of millions of people that would never, you know, 15-20 years ago would have been absolutely excluded from that. So you know, that the narratives around exploitation and a broken system, I could challenge. And then the third thing you did, was you jumped to some, you know, some important stuff, but that is probably relevant to formal occupation, and formal employment, whereas the majority of the world's workers are actually not in those, and in fact, probably a declining proportion will be in formal relationships. And, you know, I guess I would ask, why do you not jump to saying, Okay, how can we give health insurance? Or how can we give, you know, how can we make sure that there's pensions or holiday pay for people who are in these informal occupations, because that's… you're not going to reverse, you're going to turn the clock back on that trend now towards fragmentation, and sort of marketization of small bits of work, whether it's graphic design, or whether it's delivering you know, food, or whether it's piecework on clothes, we're not going to turn that clock back, are we?
SB: So Michael…
ML: Let’s try to take those things maybe one at a time. Because with monologues, the audience is going to be like, okay, I can't cope with this.
SB: Let’s start with poverty, because, you know, if we wanted to end the scourge of inequality, then let's end poverty. Now, I understand why you say what you say, because they're the World Bank statistics. But you show me someone who can live on $1.92 or $1.96, I forgot the actual figure, a day. And I'll say, that's a miracle. What I can tell you is that more people go to bed hungry today, then those statistics will tell you have been lifted out of poverty. It's that simple. And that was before COVID-19, which has exploded all of this and created craters of inequality, discrimination… you know, name the blight. So, poverty actually… lifting people out of poverty was in large part propaganda, if you actually believed the benchmark was sufficient, and that's the debate we should have. That's the first thing. The second thing is though, if the world is indeed up to seven times richer in the last three or four decades, why are people living in poverty? Why do they need to use exploitative labor market mechanisms? And that's the question. What I didn't say was that all work will be the same as it was five decades ago, we've never said that. We've never been… we might have had people argue against technology in fear of their jobs. But as a labor movement, we've never argued that technology that was good for society, and there's a big difference in today's world, should not be included in the world of work. In fact, we used it as formal labor market advocates very well, for workers, we used it to upskill workers and to, in fact bargain for skilled wages. However, that's it with hyperglobalization I talked about. So, none of us is opposed to trade, or globalization. I'm very frightened that because of the model that has failed people and the environment, but let's stick with people for the minute, then the trust has broken down everywhere. And indeed, the trust in democracy has broken down, Michael, less than 50% of people live in democracies today. And when 45% or so of our young people, let alone the developing world, have not seen a democracy dividend, then I ask you a question. How can this optimistic world of business survive if we don't hav e democratic rights, principles, the rule of law? So, I think that's something that's got to unite us all. How do we share wealth? How do you really have shared prosperity? And indeed, how do you make sure that democracies grow, not actually go in to decline either formally, or indeed, through authoritarianism, even within increasing numbers of democratic so-called countries. So we have a lot in common to clean up. But you and I would argue we will never clean it up, if we're arguing on two sides of one street, rather than saying exactly what you said, what is the resolution for the future? And what it is not, is the increasing number of billionaires, I don't care how much money they have, what I care about, is that they actually pay some tax and give back to the communities they made that wealth from and even more closely for me, that they pay just wages and provide conditions that actually matter. On the subject of health care, I would say to you, you know, people decry national health care models like Australia, like the UK, but what's happened in COVID-19, where you have national health care models, people are being far better off than where you have to make a choice like the woman I talked to in the US a couple of weeks ago, who earns a minimum wage on which she cannot leave or raise a family, she has diabetes, workers can't afford health care in the US. And she makes the distinction of making a choice to buy sugar-based products, terrible, instead of insulin, because at least that keeps her going. So, she can look after her family. Now there are forced choices. And if our society is not wealthy enough to provide those basic public services for everybody, and universal social protection, including for those workers that you argue choose to be independent, we might have some argument at the edges about that, choose to be independent of an employment relationship, they should have universal social protection as well.
ML: Okay, so on COVID and healthcare, I think what we should do is not litigate that at the moment, because I think that, you know, we're in the middle of this, you know, what, frankly, we don't know where we're going to end up at the end of that pandemic. The story that you told the woman making those terrible choices is horrible. But equally, the performance on vaccinations right now, in many of the countries that we you know, held up as standards of social democracy has also been woeful, and people are still, you know, people are dying as a result of both extremes there. But that one, I want to leave because I think that you and I got, we've got to get on to topics that well, that are not still as open and as raw as that.
SB: Yeah, but let's just let's just say this about that. America has vaccinated more people, thankfully, with the change of administration, I would argue, but that doesn't matter… Has vaccinated more people than anyone else in the world now. How did they do it? Not by people relying on whether they had private health care, but by throwing open a public system?
ML: Sharan, you won't get me arguing against a public health provision, you just won’t. So you know, we're not identically located on the political spectrum, but I'm not one of these. I'm absolutely not one of these libertarians, you know, if they didn't want to die of COVID, they should have worked harder at school. Absolutely not. On the poverty things, I would push harder on the poverty, what I would like to do is there's been a fantastic debate, quite a robust debate between Max Roser of Our World in Data, who takes all those, you know, UN statistics on wealth and poverty, and Jason Hickel, who, you know, takes every opportunity to describe the world as utterly broken and essentially, where it comes out, is that it, of course you can't live on $1.90 a day, what it comes out as it whatever your poverty band you take, the world has become wealthier, there's just the wealth of the world used to be a few wealthy nations and a big block of people with almost nothing. And that has all shifted and become much closer aligned. So, the difference between China's economy and the EU has enormously shrunk. And even the same with India and other places, Africa is the exception. But that debate is, you know, it's raging, and I think what we should do is put a link to it in the show notes. Because I want to get on to, you know, we've sort of opened up COVID and the direction we should go you and I in this discussion, I think first of all, how you have a adjust recovery from COVID and climate change, and perhaps bringing those two together. If I could start with the climate change? Why does the International Trade Union Confederation care about climate change? I mean, it's so far in the distance, and so many people are working on it, why is that one of your top priorities?
SB: Well, it's very simple. There's no jobs on a dead planet. Plus, we won't have a planet that people, humanity, can actually survive in if we don't tackle what has been, you know, extreme ravishing of the planet. And again, it's the economic model… for all the good, it's done and you won't have me arguing against global trade, I’ll argue against the model and the rules, you won't have me arguing against global interconnectedness or the mobility of people, although it's very small. But, I will say to you, if corporate greed has driven this, then we need to change the way we think about that. Now, it's painful. It's more painful for trade unions than almost anybody, because, you know, it's not… you don't see too many… there are some great ones. But you don't see too many politicians or industrial barons who walk the coal fields and tell the coal miners, you know, that it's over but we'll fight for a just transition, or take on the fossil fuel companies about, even as they try now to position gas as the next, you know, kind of world of wonder, and riches, of course, that gas is still a transition technology. And yes, it's terrific to see companies transitioning with a minimum last mile abatement of, you know, we would hope no more than 5% into, you know, the small pockets of CCS or not green hydrogen, but we have to manage this transition. I mean, intellectually, that's just the way it is, if you believe the science, and we do. Now, our problem has been something you touched with me earlier on. And that is, what happens when people are frightened. What happens when corporations interested in continuing fossil fuels, or any other climate area vandalism, actually, you know, capture that fear and create an environment of joint lobbying of governments to preserve industries that we know, as painful as it is, have to change. We're no strangers to change, by the way, Michael, I mean, the telephone exchange that the young woman that I was a joint scholarship earner with, you know, all those years ago in Australia and in what the Americans call middle school, but Year 10 before you go on to graduate, high school, she got a job, an indigenous woman in a telephone exchange where you plug the… and that was a great job in that country town, show me where they are, like, you know, these telecommunications, so change is not our fear, technology's not our fear. It's the transition, whether it's been in the terrible ravages of manufacturing that's left communities and workers stranded… So, we've got a very simple approach to this. Just transition means no stranded people, and no stranded communities, even as finance and business looks at no stranded assets.
ML: Okay, but what you're referring to there is a conversation that we had where I said, I was going to challenge you about the sort of conservatism of the of the union movement, or at least of certain unions in certain places. There are some real examples. South Africa, where the coal miners’ union actually challenged in court, the energy law that was going to promote renewable energy. We've got the German mining union, which, I mean, I would say, in cahoots with the RWE, managed to push out the closure of German coal use in the energy system to 2038. I mean, you know, the UK went from 40% coal in 2012, to basically none now. And, you know, so obviously, and, you know, the lights still go on, and everything still works. So, you know, it's clearly not an engineering problem. Why that has to stay on until 2038, you know, it's a climate crime, frankly, and it was big business demanding that its assets were protected, that it could milk its assets for as long as possible, but also the union doing exactly the same, pushing back change. Silesia in Poland, I mean, you know, it's really, it's tragic, the Solidarity union, the Solidarity union that played such a key role in the freeing of Poland from the Soviet bloc, actually is in cahoots with the Heartland Institute, you know those bad people that are that you know MSNBC and so on portrays as the devil incarnate, it's, you know, smell of sulphur every time they have one of their meetings, the Heartland Institute, you know, and Solidarity is sitting with them and working out joint statements in order to retain coal at the heart of the Polish, you know, I could go on.
SB: You don't have to describe this to me, Michael, we know all of those people, and they're fantastic human beings, built their communities truly, you know, and, and in fact, you know, I think if you've seen that movie Pride, and you think about the history of coal miners and coal mining unions and the way they built communities, you know, anybody who watches that and has been in awe of the solidarity of coal mining men and women would actually be weeping at the end because it is indeed a tale of incredible solidarity and development, I last walked the coalfields for a BBC production, actually, but I took them to the coal mines in the south of Leon in Spain and showed them the, you know, there was a just transition agreement, showed them the pain of those workers who’ve accepted that, but actually still had to see the benefits and the promise of the future. And so, you know, I'm totally where you are on this. But let's go back to RWE. It's been a terrific company for workers over the years, but who's the protagonist, and it's not just RWE, it's Shell, BP, to a lesser extent, Equinor now moving and others, but pick a fossil fuel companies, look at NRG, where the most visionary CEO, David Crane was dismissed, or go to Danone in a different set of architecture, where Emanuel Faber, another reformer for business for both rights and climate, you know, was ousted by basically shareholder groups, and people on the board who didn't want to lose their status or stipend or whatever. You know, we need to reform this model. So the bad… the protagonists, who are the evildoers here, is a failure. They're not bad people, it's a failure for them to say, we have a responsibility not just to protect our capital, and our assets, but to take those and drive sustainable companies for the future. And the warriors in that field are few and far between, but the Paul Polmans of the world, look at Unilever today with another great CEO, Alan Jope, who has a climate plan, who declared at the beginning of COVID that there would be no jobs dividend that in fact he would make sure that the same amount of jobs going in with the jobs coming out. They've just declared that they'll have a living wage by 2030, across all of their supply chains. You know, these are the reformers. But there are so many who aren't, because otherwise, we wouldn't continue to have that massive growth in billionaires, I'm sorry, but it is symbolic. I don't mind how much people earn, as I said, but, you know, if you've got that much wealth, you can't spend it. So why wouldn't you give back to the community, not just as philanthropists, but in the tech space, to build those health services or to provide social protection. Our world needs to turn on its axis. In South Africa, I just want to address this because it's a palatable tale of fear. There was nothing else on offer. That's what drove the fear and the challenges. You know, that's why we fight for just transition. It's why we, you know, help workers to the table with companies, with governments, to actually say, what's the plan, when people see a plan, then they know that their fights not just for them, it's for their children and grandchildren, it's always been us to help children out of poverty, to get them education to see them have a better life. But if there's no plan, and your fear is you can't feed your family the next day or the next month, of course you’ll fight.
ML: Again, you know, I sort of I'm going to agree with 80% probably.
SB: That’s why I like you, Michael. Our discussions would be half as much fun if we're all on the same page.
ML: I could even agree with 100% except that then I would have to raise the bit that you didn't talk about, right and 100%... Look, I do find it bizarre that you know, you have Amazon, you know, fighting tooth and nail, by the way, something that we see, you know, even here in London, we have bus drivers, we have Uber drivers who will you know, having to do that, you know, it's shocking, frankly, the working conditions, you know, even in, you know, I'm gonna say even in unionized work on the London buses, the working conditions, you know, the safety issues that I've been, you know, fighting about. But you know, with Amazon when you see that kind of incredible pressure to keep the costs down and then Bezos becomes so wealthy and then it gives 1-10 billion, you know, to climate, and you sort of think, well, why don't you integrate your life? You know, certainly I've tried to live my life where my work, which is, you know, this and other things I do I try not to do one thing during the day, and then be a good person on the weekend on the evening, you know, with my kids. And I tell you, it's very refreshing when you do integrate everything. I will say that, you know, I think Paul Polman has probably got a, you know, an easier psyche having taken the route that he did, then had he really tried to kind of exploitatively drive down costs, but then do lots of philanthropy on the side. And we do we do see too much of that there's absolutely no question. I think where I've got a challenge, though, is that it's easy to paint simple solutions, right? I do it, I've done it, where I said wind and solar becomes so cheap, why would you fight it? You know, this is not a scary transition, because, you know, look at the learning curve, look at the experience curve, look at the wall of money we have, we're going to talk about finance. And so, this transition, we should be going much faster, right. But of course, that doesn't deal with difficult issues like heating, like aviation, like shipping, and the wrenching changes. But you've done a similar thing. Well, if that if those miners in South Africa, you know, had an alternative, maybe their union would not have felt the need to fight the renewable energy trend. The problem is that the renewable energy has jobs in different places, of a different training. And in many cases, jobs that lend themselves to piecework or to those kind of, you know, to the gig economy type approach, right? Because clambering around on a roof and installing solar, working very hard for three, four days, but then waiting for your next job is very different from work in a mine. And it might be in Joburg, or it might be in Cape Town, or it could be you know, it could be anywhere, but it's not going to be in the same areas of South Africa. So that community that has built up around the mines is under threat. And you can't say well, you know, green transition, it'll all be fine. Of course, there'll be lots of jobs, but they won't be in the same place. And they won't be with the same skills. And they won't live within and create the same communities. And you've got to address that.
SB: Yes, you do. And that's why we argue that just transitions very simple. It's actually key elements, like making sure that workers of retirement age have secure pensions, it's bridging the gap for older workers to pension age, if they would rather retire than take another job. It's actually providing income support with the skilling and redeployment support for younger workers. And it's investing in renewal of communities. And you know, just as those coal mines or indeed, any other industry, manufacturing, in particular built those communities, we can look at other areas, and there are some great successful transitions. The problem is people don't do it simultaneously. And so, planning is everything. And that's what just transition is about. But let me go back to something you said about integration, because it's absolutely right, Michael. So, we've simplified our demand for a new social contract, which you'll hear even António Guterres talk about, and we have five worker demands. Now communities will have other demands, and they should, because the social contract is between people, their governments, and of course, other actors in the economy. And for us, the five worker demands are very simple, you won't be surprised at all: jobs, jobs and jobs. When did we give up on full employment? You know, and of course, climate friendly jobs, they have to be climate friendly jobs with just transition because we can't separate the twin crises of inequality or unemployment in this lens, and climate. And then we want rights. Absolutely. I mean, the Declaration of Human Rights put a new floor under the way we think about the rights of people in democratic environments. And that's eroded now, dramatically. So those, you know, four conditions I talked about from the ILO centenary, not just for formal workers, for all workers are very simple, fundamental rights and indeed occupational health and safety, a minimum living wage on which you can live with dignity, and control over your working hours. Now, let me go to the minimum living wage, because Jeff Bezos is fighting that Amazon union and what's the claim of the American workforce? $15/h minimum wage, he could have paid every one of his employees $100,000 bonus during COVID and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic, there's something very wrong with a man like that. I don't actually hold that for every employer, I think the system has created a lot of this when we could, in fact, have a much better model of work and shared prosperity. And then we want universal social protection. I mean, you know this, but people are shocked when I say, well, 55% of the world's people have no social protection at all, 75%, little or no social protection. And we could help people build these systems for just a couple of percentage points of GDP. So, if you do that, and you look at what's driving inequality, then you can build an inclusive future. So, for us, it's very simple. And if you don't integrate those things, we don't fix the root of the problem.
ML: I think it's very interesting, because those things you talk about, they seem self-evident, but you have framed it again, around jobs, and around a minimum wage…
SB: Or a minimum income, Michael. We’re not orthodox about that.
ML: Exactly. But the problem is, as soon as you talk about employment, rather than jobs and a minimum income then doesn't the onus fall not on these evil bosses, with their satanic mills, but on the policymakers, and also on leaders like yourself to say, how do we structure this so that somebody might work six hours a week, because they're studying or 24 hours a week, because they've got kids, they're also looking after, or 40 hours a week, or whatever it is, and they might be in… How do we how do we make, you know, because that's how the economy is, it's always has been to a certain extent, for large parts of the workforce, it's going in that direction. And you know, when you say, when you say all the good things, you say, but then you say, so we need jobs that look like this with a minimum wage, it looks like that, then you're immediately shrinking what you can… the people that you're addressing, and the solutions that are you not?
SB: No, not at all, not at all, Michael. I’ll challenge you on that because that's where understanding the Centenary Declaration is really important, like nobody can possibly oppose, provided their legal working age, people making choices about when and how they work. But it's got to be a genuine choice. And frankly, when I'm trying to provide security and some measure of formalization for those informal agricultural women in India, our Self-Employed Women's Association looks to a number of areas of how you provide a minimum income. Now, actors, entertainers, you know, those brilliant movies, the unions have done this forever. They don't have permanent employment. But what they do have is indeed a minimum contract price. We can set that for everybody, whether they're doing a piece of journalism across the internet, or whether they're engaged in indeed, Deliveroo or whatever. And then people can, of course, with their legislative rights bargain, collectively, for indeed, better or <inaudible> skilled wages. Whether you know, we'd prefer they were in unions, but that's the right of workers everywhere. So, it doesn't matter what the form of work is, these rights exist for everybody. What you're describing though, you’re right to challenge people, because the world is what the world is. But why is there a new group of businesses getting very wealthy, who simply decided they didn't have any responsibility for the people who make the wealth for them? And that's the challenge for me.
ML: So, I think that what you just said, is much more in line with how I see the challenge and the solutions, which is that for every piece of work, really, the employer should be making sure what they're paying is sufficient, but is also paying into funds for social protection for health care, those sorts of things. So, each person should be I should have, you know, to build up the funds to help them deal with, you know, with the stuff that happens in life, and the employer should be paying into those. That's how it should be structured. Between policymakers, unions, employers, whoever… that's what is fair.
SB: And that's the social contract that has to be negotiated. But I'm not going to lay down the law because this is about people and their employment arrangements.
ML: It must be the norm. But it must also be the law surely?
SB: No, no. But what I'm saying is, I'm not going to dictate to people, how they negotiate these things. What we will say, with a global rule of law is that those Centenary Declaration, labor rights and protections, we call the labor protection floor, should be available to everybody. Now, how you get there should be the subject of policy, discussions, negotiations, social dialogue, that's the way it's always been. When that breaks down, because our democracies are breaking down, or even within democracies, people fight, you know, you're seeing the fight in the American corporate model, against freedom of association, the right of workers to join together to have an equal voice, you know, union or non-union. Google workers, of course, built their own voice and while unions support them unique global union and others support them, nevertheless, they use their rights collectively. And what did Google do, you know, fought them for a very long time. So, we've got to get to a point where the power imbalance is bought into some, you know, concentric circle again. And that means a new social contract. And I don't think anybody who wants a world based on decency and shared prosperity, would argue with that. So, it's really then finding out in what circumstances can you make this possible?
ML: I would agree, nobody could argue with the goal. It's the question of whether the kind of collectivization the… you know, whether that's the right way to go. But that let's move on, because what I'll do is we'll put into the show notes, a link to the declaration, it's the ILO…
SB: Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work.
ML: The Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work, we'll put a link in and then we'll let the conversation continue. Because I want to just before we close, I do want to talk about the COVID recovery integrating with the climate transition. You and I could probably, you know, we could probably sketch out on a piece of paper what the engineering of that looks like, right? Lots more renewable energy, some hydrogen, some areas, we're not quite sure, but we'd want to do some R&D, and so on and so on. How does that map on to the COVID recovery in your view?
SB: So I'd say three things. First of all, we need to finance the recovery, and it needs to be a just recovery, as you said, with, from our perspective, of course, jobs, climate friendly jobs in whatever the energy source, but also every sector has to shift, Michael, every industry sector. Industry policy is back in town. But we also have to rebuild our health sector. So, when, you know, I was talking to people yesterday, I'm co-writing a piece about jobs and climate and I must say all credit to the co-authorship because they're doing a lot of the research work. But we were saying you can't simply describe jobs in heavy manufacturing, or jobs in energy or jobs in areas that are directly related with climate because what COVID has shown us, if you don't have the resilience, of health, aged care, childcare, education, you can't provide the foundations for a sustainable future, or for a circular economy or whatever it takes. So that's the first thing. Integrating again our thinking about how you build sustainable futures for everybody. Secondly, of course, there's the question of where can you make the biggest impact? Now, I've already said, every sector and we're working with steel and cement and aluminum, of course, the traditional areas of transition in fossil fuels. But you know, surprisingly, many sectors are finding a way to get to net zero in planning. And, sadly, some of them are ahead of governments because the NDCs are so lacking in ambition, but that's a story for COP. And then when you look at cities, I'm very passionate about reform of cities, because where you have progressive mayors, and there are many around the world, you know, you can do 40% of the job, encapsulate every industry, even if not directly deployed in the city areas, the supply and demand curve keep hinterland communities in manufacturing or in you know, energy distribution or whatever going. And if we got it right into cities where you have to have livable environments now look at ventilation, and you know the resilience and protection against future pandemics, then that's where we can make a huge difference. But I know you're going to come to finance. So, I'm going to put a challenge to you. I want to hear how we change the financing of cities to make that possible, with industry policy with social dialogue where people are at the table, who've got a stake in the future for communities for workers for indeed sustainable business. And then we'll be making a difference. We want to protect those hinterland rural communities everywhere. But you can't do that unless supply and demand is working for an economic model for those communities.
ML: So many interesting sorts of starting points for discussions there. Because when you talk about the hinterland and the city, I started a conference in Switzerland, called Moving Mountains, which looks at the mountain communities. But of course, but my thinking there was everybody at the time was talking about the smart city, but nobody was thinking about these hinterlands and because I've spent some time in Switzerland, the hinterland of the Smart City is a mountain community. So, those issues of the city and the hinterland, they feel very sort of remote when you sit in London, but whether you're in Switzerland, or whether you're… all over the world, in fact, they're absolutely key. But, we could go off on that tangent, but you challenge me on finance and finance for cities, particularly? And that's a great question. In fact, I think it was episode four, I had Barbara Buchner from Climate Policy Initiative who kicked off an initiative on finance for cities, and I helped her to launch that. It's very challenging because generally what happens in a city is not funded by the mayor or the municipality or the city. I mean, obviously, a part of it is but it's a small part. It's a minority. And so there's a real risk that you get mayors like the Mayor of London going, well, London is going to be net zero by 2030, which is a completely cynical statement, since he controls none of the big chunks of that around, you know, how we heat our homes, how we heat our offices…
SB: He does control procurement, Michael. He does control procurement.
ML: He does. And in this case, in the case of London, he controls procurement of essentially public transportation, and the London buses are not going to be fully zero carbon until 2038, yet he's making the claims of 2030 for all of London in the current mayoral campaign. I mean, it's just cynical, it's ridiculous.
SB: No, I totally get the cynicism. But if you go to a city like Oslo, there's a fantastic mayor. And they declared that his city would be a circular economy even I thought, oh, my God, that's ambitious. What do you do about construction? That's only a tiny bit of the way what do you do about waste? He's got a plan. And when he declared that no construction would happen in his city if it didn't actually meet the test of zero emissions, I went, how are you doing that? He said, well, they're finding ways.
ML: Absolutely. And you know, I think that the planning system is one of the big levers that that even relatively sort of… part of the problem in London is that the mayor has not got many of the powers that the mayor of New York or Madrid or Paris with Anne Hidalgo, you know, a great progressive mayor, have got. But you do have planning, which means that you can make sure that basically, you know, nothing gets built that isn't net zero compatible. Retrofit is really, really hard. That's where it gets hardest, because these are assets owned by not the mayor. And, you know, essentially, if you want to go net zero, they have to all be retrofitted to be, you know, net zero or as near as damn it and that's really expensive. We're talking about, you know, $20,000-25,000 per home, you know, for already existing homes.
SB: It is really expensive. But if you think again, and you know this better than me, because you're the finance guru, but if you think about the returns you get on looking at industry policy, again, go to a small city, like Ghent, they'll tell you the problems, but the ambitions for all of that, for heating, for retrofitting, for new buildings, as well as public transport, they have a plan for it. And that's what we ask, that they have a plan. They sit at the table with the workers, the community and others, and we make sure everybody owns that plan, because that's the only way we're going to make this ambition.
ML: That's absolutely right. I was gonna make two points. One is, you have to have a whole place solution. You can't do this saying, well, let's go to some electric taxis and then let's do some electric buses, and let's do something with some heating, and then let's talk to the local industry. No, you've got to do it on once. Because for instance, you might make a different choice about your transport. Because you know, that heating, you could do in a certain way, using CHP or using big thermal stores or whatever it is, you've got to solve on a system whole systems basis. I actually have a proposal, which we've been sort of feeding into various platforms called Pathfinder Cities to take a few locations. And maybe Ghent, if you know them well might be one, where you try to get to net zero by 2035. The reason being, it's halfway between here and 2050. So, you'd have a whole-system solutions and in front end the learnings. So, if we fail, you fail, you kind of fail early, and then you can, you can respond.
SB: And you know what it is, you know, what you've got to do, and what you didn't get right. There are no perfect solutions to this. And you're right, Michael, you're so right. It's got to be integrated. It's got to be a plan, it's got to incorporate all industry and all aspects of city life, which is why I'm so passionate about it. I don't want to pretend I'm not passionate about rural areas and reinventing rural communities. But you can do it together, you know?
ML: But the rural area, the hinterland, the rural area is the hinterland. So, you've already addressed that. And when you do whole place, you don't know if… Where is Ghent getting its food, where is Ghent getting its energy, that’s the boundary that you have to solve within.
SB: What’s the connection for people who can work remotely, who choose to live in those rural communities, but are actually servicing city businesses or city services.
ML: And that's very dynamic, because we could find that people working in Ghent are actually in Estonia, or in, you know, wherever. But the other thing, you challenge me on finance, and yes, here's the issue. That transformation is probably net present value positive, it probably is a valuable thing to do, but the payback is going to be, let's say, 15, 20, 30 years, right? So, if you look at London. London spends somewhere around £20 billion a year on fuel, that's gas, that's electricity and transport fuel. And if you could reduce that, that is money that would stay in the economy. The problem is you need to be investing something that's going to be of the order … you're going to have to invest probably, I'm going to say 150 billion in transforming London in order to reduce that 20 billion of fuel spend. So, it's a vast financing challenge. And I think, but I think that's the way to think about it.
SB: It's only a huge challenge, and you and I've had this conversation, it's only a huge challenge if you think of short term gain. If you think of patient capital, and managing patient debt, because it's the management of debt that's... And I always think of it like this, you know, previous generations had a different view about this. The people who built the railways didn't expect return in a year. The people who built the Sydney Harbor Bridge, I always think about, I think it took, I don't know, three generations to pay it off with tolls going across it. But that's the way we have to think. And on the question of finance, generally, you know, we have around $40 trillion of workers capital, pensions, invested in the global economy, we don't like the model for people and we don't like it for climate. And it's why we're so invested, actually, in due diligence, so that all of these things come together with people taking responsibility. But on finance, I took over this job in late 2010. And I started to do due diligence. And one of the things that struck me was the ludicrous absence of engagement or control for our pension funds, who were just giving their money to asset managers and saying as long as I get double digit returns or better, great, so that's changing. But I remember being so naive, I asked actuaries, what would be the tipping point to get green finance moving. And they said 5%. So, I went around in 2011/12. I remember… I don't love investment conferences, it's your natural milieu, not so much mine. And I, you know, I would say to people, we're going to be watching you to see that you're actually engaging, that you're looking at ESG in a holistic way. Now I'm uncompromising. Every dollar, every euro, every unit of currency has to have an ESG lens, it has to be about rights and due diligence, it has to be about climate and the environment more broadly, we haven't talked about nature and nature based solutions, but if we don't repair the environment, then people's living areas, their communities are indeed, you know, still poisoned, still dried up, still whatever. But every unit of currency has to be with an ESG lens, but it will take patient capital, and it will take patient management of debt.
ML: Okay, so I now need to qualify when I said it's a huge challenge. That doesn't mean that it's an impossibility. It is a challenge because it is about structured finance, in the sense that the person who owns the house and the boiler, probably, you know, if they're going to make a change, they want to see a payback in, you know… for that sort of upgrade of a boiler, you want a two year, three year, five year payback. What we need is, is the patient capital, the pension money, the debt finance, it's a structuring problem, I think you're onto the right track there.
SB: It’s also not necessarily these are business opportunities as well, you know, for my sins, I love listening to people who have nimble business models. So, there are a number of, I won't name one, because there's lots of them. But there are a number of community businesses who will retrofit your house for you, at least in terms of energy, and you pay a service fee, very little service fee, less than you would on traditional electricity and gas, for the services and the energy, and they can still make a profit. Now, they won't make profits of the RWEs. But you know what, Michael, that the world in terms of regulation is stacked against them. Because while they're prepared to employ people, in decent work, the regulation says, oh, you can't operate on this basis or that basis. And the energy markets, which again, you know more about the me, I was shocked recently to understand that in Europe, they're actually 27 energy markets in infrastructure. So, the big companies can build the portal of engagement. But the small companies find it very hard to get into the market, cross-border, that's a disaster.
ML: So, Episode 14,
SB: I’m going to listen to them all now.
ML: You don't want to mention one company, but I will. SDCL, Jonathan Maxwell, who's doing that business model of energy as a service, he essentially invented it in Europe, not for the homes, but for corporate clients. And he's put over £1 billion to work so far, making good returns. Homes are challenging. I'm an advisor to him, I should declare. So, we are trying to think through how you do that for homes. But you're absolutely right. Regulation does not make it easy to bring in that patient capital to help, you know, transform the homes for people who are, you know, for whatever reason, and good reasons in that, you know, more impatient. I think we're going have to leave it there, Sharon.
SB: So let me say this to you. If you're serious about the community servicing, you know, people like Felix Grolman from Germany, he’s a fantastic networker. He has a lot of people who, you know, work together, but he's built these businesses. So, I'd be happy to introduce you.
ML: Sounds great. And who knows, you may end up being on Cleaning Up, one of the future episodes, because we've got plenty more people to talk to about exactly these issues. A final question just as we close, are you going to be at COP? What do you think?
SB: I hope so. I've had my first vaccine. So, let's see. But I'm worried about all these international events this year. They’re so important, on the one hand, and as I said earlier, the NDCs are not ambitious enough, in the main. 26% of them, by our analysis, get somewhere near that. Less than 20% reference social dialogue that gets to the planning <inaudible>, discuss and listen, and 12% just transition. So yes, I hope to be there. But I am worried about discrimination, and isolating those vast parts of the world where, you know, vaccine nationalism is ugly, frankly, but let's hope.
ML: Let's hope indeed, I've got some very ambitious plans to bring people together, around COP. So let's stay in touch and hopefully we'll be able to meet in person so we can continue some of these dialogues, discussions, even the arguments in person.
SB: The arguments are great Michael and as always, I love talking to you.
ML: Thank you so much for joining us here today on Cleaning Up. So that was Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. My guest next week on Cleaning Up is Thomas Nowak, Secretary General of the European Heat Pump Association, street fighter on the frontlines of the electrification of heat. Please join me at this time next week for Cleaning Up