Global Unions Reaction to Hamburg G20 Summit


It was 19 to 1 on climate at the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Hamburg. The victory for Chancellor Merkel on securing a majority commitment to the Paris Agreement is a relief for the world, but it requires deep cuts in emissions and a commitment to ensure industrial transformation is accompanied by “just transition” measures.

Climate Change
Political leadership in the coming months to deliver these commitments is essential, as mandatory investment disclosure for business remains a missing element of managing this transition, along with carbon pricing and ambitious commitments to green infrastructure.

“The G20 has effectively become a G19 on key issues of climate with the Trump Administration isolated and other G20 leaders forced to state that the agreement is irreversible,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.

The Labour 20 Statement from workers and trade unions at the G20 issued on the eve of the Summit called for policies to ensure coordinated action to create quality jobs for the future, reduce inequality to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and meet the commitments in the Paris Agreement.

Global Supply Chains
The G20 Leaders Declaration https://www.g20.org/gipfeldokumente/G20-leaders-declaration.pdf was positive in addressing the abuses of human rights and labour standards in global supply chains. Following the conclusions of the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers’ meeting in May, G20 leaders committed to “. . . fostering the implementation of labour, social and environmental standards and human rights” and underlined “the responsibility of businesses to exercise due diligence.” In a potentially significant step, G20 leaders committed to take “immediate and effective measures to eliminate child labour by 2025, forced labour, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery.”

The G20 leaders recognition of workers’ rights in global supply chains and the reaffirmation of the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights along with the ILO Declaration on Multinational Enterprises and the OECD Guidelines on Multinationals and its complaints mechanism is welcome. Due diligence by all corporations sits at the heart of implementation, and now they need to be held accountable for this to ensure decent work,” said Ms Burrow.

The G20 leaders stated they will support access to remedy for victims of human rights abuse through mechanisms such as such as the National Contact Points for the OECD MNE Guidelines (NCPs). For the first time, the G20 leaders also committed to encouraging their multinational companies to conclude international framework agreements, which are negotiated with Global Union Federations.

The adhering countries to the Guidelines now have to live up to the mandate that they have received from the G20 Leaders by ensuring that their NCPs function effectively with effective treatment of cases, mediation and remedy. This requires adequate resources as well as trade union and broader stakeholder involvement and oversight. A few NCPs function well but far too many are falling short. The leaders are also now committed to supporting the conclusion of framework agreements between multinational companies and global unions – this commitment needs to be acted on and monitored,” said John Evans, General Secretary, Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD.

Quality Jobs for the Future
Unemployment and underemployment, including involuntary part-time work, are still at levels which are worryingly high according to the OECD, and the G20 commitment to employment is weak. The Leaders said little to give confidence that they will “boost employment”. The risk of a too early withdrawal of monetary support from central banks that is not being offset by a more expansionary fiscal policy in the form of a coordinated public investment stimulus – at a time when inflation is falling and below the price stability target of the major central banks – is real, but is apparently ignored by the G20 in their statement.

Business and labour at the G20 level jointly called for a lifelong learning guarantee and the creation of permanent quality jobs across sectors. The Leaders Declaration only calls for “monitoring global trends” and “exchange of national experiences and practices” although it recognises the role of social partners in bringing about quality “school and work-based learning”.

People will not feel confident if the agenda is to simply improve structural adjustment and ensure skills training and support for displaced workers. They first and foremost need to see investment in jobs, in infrastructure and the care economy. It’s not the technology that people fear; it’s the fear of not having a job for themselves today or for their children tomorrow. Industry 4.0 will underpin a successful economic future if the foundations are secured with labour rights, just wages and secure work,” said Ms Burrow.

The trade union assessment of the G20 Leaders Declaration found:

Deep Concern on Wages
G20 leaders have not taken on board the policy implications from the stunning lack of wage dynamics that is holding back growth across different parts of the world. Indeed, as the OECD warned in its latest Global Economic Outlook from June 2017, a durable upturn in consumption and growth requires stronger wage dynamics than the weak pace of wage growth that is currently observed across the OECD. To achieve this, the G20 should continue to focus on the objective of reversing the trend of falling labour shares, a commitment to which they subscribed in previous G20 meetings under the leadership of Turkey and China.

A Shift in Trade
On trade and investment, the G20 reiterate past commitments to “keep markets open” and to continue to “fight protectionism". In an usual manner, however, the G20 also “recognise the role of legitimate trade defence instruments” in addressing “unfair trade practices”. While this recognition is reportedly a concession to the Trump Administration and its unilateralism, it would merit further discussion at the G20 to help advance a new progressive policy agenda on trade and investment agreements, harnessing market openness with the above commitments on global supply chains, and as called upon by the Labour 20. And indeed the G20 “recognise that the benefits of international trade and investment have not been shared widely enough”.

Pact with Africa
Trade unions welcome the attention by the G20 leaders, but action must be about improving livelihoods for Africa’s people, and not about increasing the profits of global corporations.

The promise by all the world’s leaders of a zero-poverty zero-carbon world, underscored by global agreements on the sustainable development goals and climate, should be led by the G20 with the major share of global population and wealth. The German Presidency understood the stakes. The test of the G20 under the Argentinian Presidency in 2018 and in Japan in 2019 is to stand firm with these commitments to the planet and to the people, and the hosting of the G20 in Saudi Arabia in 2020 must come with commitments on workers’ rights and women’s rights,” said Burrow.