NFU Blog

Finance as if the future matters

Climate campaigning cannot remain a luxury, it needs to become union business as climate change will mean the biggest industrial change of our generation. This is what UNI Global Union’s General Secretary Philip Jennings stated in a recent Guardian article, where he provided insights on the trade unions’ response to climate change[1].

For unions, employment and decent work is core business and climate change is not employment friendly. Sharan Burrow, secretary general of the ITUC added that unions need to mobilise to achieve a just transition focusing on skills, jobs and technology.

With the ITUC’s World Day for Decent Work on 7 October, this year with the focus on Justice for Workers – Climate Justice, improving sustainability in the face of climate change needs to become an integrated part in the trade union struggle.

What could a sustainable finance sector include?

A new vision is needed that takes social and ecological impact into account when making financial decisions both in the short- and long-term. Financial institutions’ activities should serve the real economy and include broader societal perspectives in their considerations.

This could be done by creating incentives for financial institutions to do good and offer green, fair, and inclusive products and services. Such as putting in place tax benefits for long-term, responsible investments and flexibility for pension funds to invest in green, fair and inclusive projects including criteria for long-term value creation.

There is also the aspect of scale. Resilience of the financial system is crucial and a multitude of financial institutions of different size increases it at the same time as access to financial products improves. Financial institutions that are embedded in the communities they serve and have a clear vision about serving the real economy and addressing issues of social inclusiveness have an important role to play. Businesses focused more on shareholder value than on customer satisfaction, will not provide the diversity and closeness to the real economy that is needed.

This vision has much in common with what we usually refer to as boring banking.

What can the finance trade unions do to support a just transition?

To some extent we are already doing it. The Finance Innovation Lab stated in a paper last year that a banking system that is more diverse, locally based, transparent, and focused on the real economy is the one best suited to finance the transition to a sustainable economy[2]. This is very much in line with what we continuously put forward to decision-makers when we:

  • demand qualitative measurements rather than quantitative, a shift from economic to social capital with financial advisors providing responsible advice.
  • want stability of the sector leading to a more secure working environment for our members.
  • push for good governance structures taking diversity and proportionality into account.

What we can further do is to support a redefinition of the buzzword growth. Growth should not just be defined as a bank or insurance company’s return on equity or a growth that is jobless.

We need a growth of trust, ensuring beneficial conditions for finance employees as well as for workers affected by what financial institutions invest in.

A concrete workplace example of this is Swedbank’s decision to buy TCO Certified IT equipment, ensuring ergonomic work equipment for its staff, at the same time as environmental and social standards are met in the production of these.

Stepping up our work for sustainability in the face of climate change could also include looking into:

  • demanding inclusion of sustainability dimensions in the competence development for employees;
  • employee representatives voicing the societal responsibility in the boardroom; and
  • asking for governance structures that put nice CSR words into action.

We need incentives for the financial sectors to do things right, establishing a broad and positive vision of the role of financial institutions. We need a back-to-the-sustainable-future approach of boring banking.

[2] Bone, Gemma (2013, May 7). Sustainability in Banking Reform? An overview of current EU proposals. The Finance Innovation Lab.

Hanna Sjölund, UNI/NFU Policy Officer

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