Climate strikes, partnerships and using worker capital to tackle environmental issues: Issue #2

As 2019 comes to a close, here is what your environment committee has been up to:

I hope you enjoy this issue and if you have any feedback, we'd love to hear from you. Please email communications@bcgeu.ca and we will respond shortly.

In solidarity,
James Coccola, BCGEU Vice President and Chair of the BCGEU Environment Committee
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Using worker capital to tackle environmental issues

You may have noticed our union talking more about responsible investing when it comes to pushing companies to do better both socially and environmentally. This work began back in 2014 when the union democratically voted to divest its general and strike fund investments from fossil fuel equities ahead of the 2015 global oil price crash. This move has not only massively de-risked our investment portfolio, but it bolstered our investment performance and our work has been cited by other groups seeking to divest as well.

For the last two years, our union has also begun to use its investor power to push companies within the union’s Canadian equities portfolio to improve corporate governance, human rights, labour practices and to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Using our shareholder voice, we are able to speak more directly to power in order to promote environmental, social, and governance change from within. As a result we are recognized as a nation-wide leader in this field.

“We recognized that divesting our strike fund and general reserves from fossil fuels wasn’t enough, and that we could go further to hold companies to a higher standard such as pushing them to address harmful labour or environmental practices,” said BCGEU treasurer Paul Finch. “Better-run companies are going to be more profitable. This is better for our members, and more aligned with our values as a union.”

So far, we’ve had some great results. In partnership with SumOfUs.org we asked dairy giant Saputo Inc. to accept greater accountability regarding the environmental and social impact of the company’s food waste. At their most recent Annual General Meeting, it committed to updating their food waste policy. We also urged retailer Dollarama to issue annual sustainability reports after not having done so for seven years and in response, it released a report.

Heading into the 2020 season, we’ve already filed half a dozen proposals at companies across Canada, with more to come. We’ve asked the Bank of Montreal to develop a strategy on greenhouse gas emissions. We are asking Restaurant Brands International, owner of Tim Hortons, to develop a comprehensive packaging sustainability policy to deal with low recycling rates of its packaging and the high volume of plastic waste that ends up in oceans. And we’ll call on companies including Saputo, Loblaws and others to improve their environmental performance.

At the end of the day, we are the workers that operate companies, and we are the customers that buy products made by these companies. We are all shareholders through direct investments, our pensions, or even the contributions we make to the Canada Pension Plan. Together, we have the power to call on some of the largest companies in the world to do better. Our union will continue to lead the way in the labour movement when it comes to responsible investing.

 

Supporting youth-led climate strikes

Ignited by the passion and perseverance of teen climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg, student activists across the world are working hard to put the climate crisis at the forefront of the public agenda, and to hold politicians accountable for their lack of action to prevent or mitigate it.

The September 27th, 2019 Global Climate Strike was unprecedented with over four million people participating worldwide. In Vancouver over 100,000 people took to the streets that day and our union was proud to take part in this historic event.

As the climate strikes go on, we hope members will continue to fly the union flag at these events all over the province in solidarity with young people stepping up to make sure climate change can no longer be ignored.

 

Partnership with Freshwater Alliance and Our Water BC

The health and protection of water in B.C. is a priority for BCGEU members when it comes to environmental issues. That’s why earlier this year our union partnered with Our Water BC, a project of the Freshwater Alliance, to help organize for stronger rules to ensure the health of freshwater in B.C.

As part of this work, our union has joined others in calling on the provincial government to create a Water Security Fund which would be a permanent fund to invest in initiatives and efforts that deliver long-term water and watershed sustainability across the province. This fund would be an opportunity to support community restoration projects, land-use plans, innovative strategies and collaborative partnerships at the watershed level.

Our Water BC has many more exciting projects in the works to address drought, overuse, climate change, industrial impacts and other threats jeopardizing B.C.’s freshwater and the communities that depend on it. For more check out Our Water BC online, or join their Facebook group.

 

Representing the voice of labour at COP25 in Spain

From December 2nd to the 13th I was honoured to attend the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) annual UN conference on climate change as part of Canada’s labour delegation.

Over the past decade, civil society, including trade unions, have used their voice at COP to help build a framework that includes human rights and a just transition for workers. These gains are important and need to be included in any agreement if we want it to be lasting or just. That said, COP is a frustrating experience that can feel hopeless. It’s easy to watch a process like this and feel worried about our future but it’s important to remember that the solution to the climate crisis will not be top down. Greta Thunberg said it best:

“I am telling you there is hope.

I have seen it.

But it does not come from governments or corporations.

It comes from the people.”