Venue: Jørlunde close to Copenhagen, conference centre of Dansk Metal

On the occasion of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen, ETUI’s European Worker Participation Competence Centre (EWPCC) together with the Hans Böckler Foundation (Germany) organised a seminar at the Metalskolen (Danish Metalworkers’ Training Centre), Jorlunde. This seminar was addressed to workers’ representatives in the boardrooms of transnational companies in Europe. Participants from eight companies and six countries learned about the concept of the ‘sustainable company’ and discussed how worker participation can use and foster the concept in company boardrooms.

The debate started with a discussion of three options from a workers’ point of view for dealing with climate change and transition: decline acceptance, take no notice of developments or be creative and take a proactive stake in designing change. However, all positions have relevance for workplaces.

The sustainable concept is intended to provide orientational guidelines for becoming active. The concept contains related environmental, social, economic and financial elements. In particular, company disclosure with regard to environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters might be a good point at which workers’ representatives can highlight the aim of establishing long-term company objectives. Another point that often falls within the competence of board-level representatives is the determination of executive remuneration. Workers’ representatives could become active in defining special criteria for sustainable performance to which executive pay can be tied.

The concept of the sustainable company and workers’ participation goes back to ideas developed by ETUI researchers Norbert Kluge and Sigurt Vitols. The aim is to contribute to the European debate on what makes a ‘good’ company and on corporate governance alternatives to the (still) predominant shareholder-value model, which highlights only the relationship between owners and managers of a company. The crisis has shown that this concept is insufficient because it leaves out other stakeholders relevant to the real life of a company.

Now it is time to reemphasise why companies exist and the important role played by workers in their well-being: ‘It is the employee who has the greatest interest in the long-term success of a company’ (Bernd Osterloh, chairman of the Volkswagen works council in Volkswagen’s Sustainability Report 2009/2010). Consequently, workers should have a legal right to be involved in company decision-making and supervision. The EWPCC of ETUI, together with ETUC, will continue to introduce and concretise this idea in the European debate, mainly in the field of European Company Law. The ‘World of Work’ Pavilion”, which was specially organised by the Global Trade Unions on the occasion of the UN Climate Summit, has already been used to discuss the concept.