Businesses and unions support global climate strike

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​Unions and organisations have given their backing to the youth climate strikes today, as firms are urged to take more action on environmental issues

Businesses and trade unions have come out in support of the global climate strike today, which will see adults, businesses and unions join youth protesters for the first time in walkouts and demonstrations across the globe.

A week of strikes and co-ordinated actions has been planned from 20 to 27 September ahead of the United Nations climate summit in New York on 27 September.

It comes after Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg urged adults to take more responsibility for tackling the climate crisis. Writing in The Guardian in May, along with 46 other youth activists, Thunberg said: 'We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job.'

The TUC, the UCU (University and College Union), and the CWU (Communication Workers Union) are among those supporting the climate strikers. The TUC has stopped short of telling all employees to walk out, acknowledging that this may not be possible or legal in many workplaces because of trade union laws. However, the body has encouraged workers to take part in a 30-minute workday strike, to join the protests before and after work, and to post solidarity photos on social media.

Alongside supporting workplace campaigns, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that business leaders must work with the government to back a green transition.

“Trade unions congratulate school students for their climate crisis leadership. We are holding campaign actions in workplaces today to support them,” she said. “Unions know we must act now. Last week our annual congress agreed proposals for a just transition to a net-zero economy. Workers in the energy sector and energy-intensive industries like steel, chemicals and ceramics must have a voice at the heart of plans to decarbonise our economy."

O'Grady said government and business leaders need to turn their attentions to new green jobs. “We urgently need a national commission to plan the transition – and to make sure workers get a fair deal with great new green jobs. We’re asking business leaders and the government to back the proposal so we can get the commission up and running as soon as possible,” she said.

Some businesses are taking a stand as part of the global strike, with companies including Patagonia and Burton Snowboards shutting down their physical and online stores.

Meanwhile, Amazon employees are taking action against the online retailer. In its Seattle headquarters 1,400 people are expected to walk out against the company’s practices, which they believe have contributed to the climate crisis.

Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, said that business leaders and HR must meet the demands of the growing Millennial workforce. "The workers going on strike today represent the future demands of the workforce, demanding business with a purpose beyond profit that [will work] towards a positive impact on wider society," she said.

"[Millennials] want their views to be considered by senior management, which should be welcomed by business leaders as an opportunity to cultivate successive leaders that will accelerate change. Millennials are the stewards of change and they will champion the shift for business for good to become the norm, rather than the exception."

Gudrun Cartwright, environment director at Business in the Community (BITC), urged employers to see the strikes as a wake-up call. “Many businesses talk the talk when it comes to climate change but only a small percentage walk the walk,” she said.

“Businesses in the UK and globally are lamenting the potential impact of Friday’s global climate strike, but we’re urging them to use it to trigger systemic change in the way they operate. The time for talking is over. Our planetary crises will not be solved unless businesses do their bit and use their scale and reach to drive change."

Previous research from BITC shows that the majority of businesses have not made action plans on becoming sustainable. “Our Responsible Business Tracker findings show that nine in 10 companies have stated their aims in relation to climate change but just two in 10 have an actual plan to make sure it’s practised at every level of the organisation,” said Cartwright.

“We’re urging businesses to positively embrace any potential impact of today’s strike and use it to start initiatives that deliver not just cultural but practical operational change.”

Check back on Monday (23 September) to read the thoughts of employees attending today's climate strike

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