Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

How to prepare for the global climate strike

Out-Law Analysis | 23 Aug 2019 | 10:11 am | 3 min. read

Climate change activists backed by Greta Thunberg are calling for a 'global climate strike' for a week starting on 20 September. People around the world will be asked to walk out of their place of work to "show our politicians that business as usual is no longer an option".

The aim of the strike is to replicate in the workplace the mass walkouts of school students that have attracted significant publicity and political engagement around the world.

How seriously do I need to engage with this?

Obviously it’s a judgement call, and some organisations will be more affected than others. However, it is important to consider the potential impact on your business.

The organisers claim that people in over 150 countries are preparing for strikes and some media reports indicate that as many as five million UK and 2 million German workers could participate. Several organisations have indicated that they will support the strike. Unions including the TUC and UCU in the UK and Verdi in Germany are understood to be backing the action to varying degrees.

While levels of participation are uncertain, in light of the increase in climate change activism it is hard to dismiss the event and the potential for significant disruption out of hand.

Harris Jacqueline

Jacqueline Harris

Partner

In light of the increase in climate change activism it is hard to dismiss the event and the potential for significant disruption. 

Some organisations, such as Patagonia and Shell, have already gone on the record with their plans. Many more organisations will need to be prepared to field questions from customers, staff and the media .

It is important for business and organisations to assess the potential impact and to plan accordingly.

In our experience the management and boards of many client organisations will want the reassurance of knowing that the legal department has been scanning the horizon and risk assessed the potential impact of an event of this type, and any steps required - if any - to protect staff and business operations.

My organisation isn't really involved in heavy industry or natural resources. Do I need to worry about this?

What is planned appears to be unlike anything seen before, and widespread disruption in the build-up to the UN Emergency Climate Summit is the stated aim.

The organisers say participants are already planning protests against "new pipelines and mines…the banks that fund them…the oil companies fuelling this crisis and the politicians that enable them". However the targets and objective of the protest are broader. The organisers state that "everyone is needed to disrupt business as usual: from sports stars, actors and teachers to food industry workers, psychologists, delivery drivers and everything in between".

There has already been a lot of publicity and the potential for participation therefore must be assumed to be significant.

Our advice is to plan ahead and decide as soon as possible what stance your organisation will take. That is likely to involve consideration of a range of issues from HR and employee relations to health and safety, security of premises and business continuity.

How do we formulate a company-wide response?

Reaching a position is not something that legal can do in isolation as it involves various areas. Many organisations, particularly those which operate in high profile and targeted areas of business, may already have well-established systems and processes to support their response. However, given the objective of wide ranging disruption, the protest has the potential to affect organisations that have not previously needed to address such issues.

In formulating a position it is important to consult widely with your operational teams. Bringing together the subject matter experts in areas such as corporate social responsibility, HR, facilities, health & safety, brand and communications will help create a well-rounded recommendation on handling for the board.

What are the most important questions to ask?

Some of the questions we would recommend considering as your organisation forms its response to the climate strike are:

  • What is the potential impact and risk involved?
  • Are we able to demonstrate to our board that we have given this matter sufficient consideration, from a cross-functional, 360-degree perspective?
  • What will our clients or customers expect of us in response?
  • What will our shareholders expect of us?
  • How do we communicate our position clearly to our people and other stakeholders?
  • Are we satisfied that we have plans in place to ensure continuity of our business, safety of our people and security of our premises?
  • Are we clear about the triggers when ‘wait and see’ is no longer viable?
  • What precedents do we set if we allow our people to participate? If we facilitate support for this walk out, are we then bound to support similar actions on other matters?
  • Do we have appropriate policies and mechanisms in place to support our preferred position already, or do we need to create new ones?
  • What is our approach to media engagement on this issue?
  • What are the legal or regulatory matters to have in mind?

What next?

Right now the important thing is to consider and formulate a position for your organisation.

Organisations concerned that they may face significant disruption have available to them a number of tactics that can mitigate the impact of protests or staff walkouts.

Pinsent Masons has developed a guide for in-house counsel outlining some practical advice for helping your business to operate and ensuring the safety and security of your people. Please contact us if you would like to receive that advice.