Workers need information and support to maximise their collective power
Worker organising is on the rise. With the so-called ‘Great Resignation’, efforts to unionise behemoths like Amazon and Starbucks, and high public support for unionisation in general, there is great excitement at what a revitalised labour movement may achieve in the coming years.
Today, many workers are pushing their companies to have a positive impact on the biggest issues society faces. Over the past few years, workers at Microsoft and Amazon have pressured their employers to commit to achieve ambitious net zero greenhouse gas emission targets, and an employee walkout and petition at Walmart led to the end of in-store sale of certain guns. Across industries – insurance, consulting, PR, transport, publishing, news media – workers are realising their unique power in effecting change.
I recently launched Honest Work, an organisation with a goal to help spread the employee activism we have already seen, because I believe workers are just getting started and that, with the right support, employees can become a key source of accountability in ensuring companies contribute to a better society for us all. Serving as a thematic co-lead for the RSA’s Good Work Guild also helped reiterate the need to empower more workers in new sectors and new geographies to make a difference.
A major part of Honest Work’s mission will be to get the right information into the hands of workers. There is a wealth of research, data and rankings available on the impact individual companies are having on the world, from the human rights performance of fashion brands to the effects of pharmaceutical companies’ drug pricing strategies on access to medicine. While ordinary workers are not typically the target audience of such research, this ignores the unique influence they can have.
Another goal of Honest Work will be to build an online community for like-minded workers to support one another and start to build collective power. Workers often lack forums to discuss ethical concerns they may have with how their company operates. Finding passionate colleagues in the same company or even the same sector could prove a ‘gateway drug’ to stepping up internal advocacy efforts or more formal worker organisation.
More broadly, waking employees up to the idea that they can influence big issues that matter to them would be a significant achievement in and of itself. Today, there are more opportunities for individuals to contribute to a good society with their personal choices than ever before. But given the unprecedented influence companies have on our day-to-day lives, advocating for change from within might well be the most impactful action a person can take.
Honest Work has the potential to further energise a labour movement on the upswing. Many in the RSA’s Good Work Guild have acknowledged that union growth is urgently needed. Yet too few unions provide adequate support for workers to take action on issues in their workplaces. With the Honest Work model, unions can start to tilt the scales in labour’s favour.
Honest Work launched in August 2022 with research on the key issues facing five sectors – consumer goods, energy, finance, healthcare and technology – and what changes workers can push for. The website also includes step-by-step tips for how to go about raising these concerns through formal and informal structures.
Emmet McNamee works in responsible investment. He recently founded Honest Work to empower workers to change their companies from within
Follow Emmet McNamee on Twitter here: @inEmmetable
This article first appeared in the RSA Journal Issue 3 2022
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