UNI Europa today answered DG Environment’s consultation on circular economy*, pushing for the move from a product based to a service based economy to include strong social safeguards.
The European Commission withdrew the Circular Economy Package proposed in 2014 as part of its Better Regulation agenda earlier this year. Since then the European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for systemic change to address resource scarcity and for resource efficiency to be coherent with broader sustainability concerns, including economic and social dimensions, and the involvement of trade unions in this shift.
Responding to the vast criticism received when withdrawing the last package, the Commission has promised a new, more ambitious circular economy strategy late in 2015. Preceding this, a consultation was launched together with a detailed roadmap.
In its reply, UNI Europa welcomes the aim of making our economy circular but regrets the lack of opportunity in the consultation questionnaire to contribute with social and employment related concerns, especially since one of the Commission’s main arguments is the clear job potential of a circular economy.
The sharing economy with its idea of using already existing commodities that we create access to rather than buy, is on a mutual, collaborative level good for both community development and for saving resources. However, non-standard and new forms of employment follow when big companies move beyond this to a “gig economy”, setting up large business structures which make individuals function like micro-entrepreneurs without proper social security. These cases of “sharewashing” renders the nature of the employment relationship and legal status of the parties involved unclear and may exert competitive pressure on employment and businesses operating within established categories of law and collective agreements.
Further, the labour force has to be equipped with the relevant skills in order to ensure an effective, job-rich transition. The urgent need of a green transition coupled with the expectedly fast paced transformation due to digitalisation, mean that inventive forms of life-long learning structures need to be explored. Having a longer-term perspective and identifying where there will be skills gaps, focusing on the areas where education, vocational training and requalification of workers are most important.
Acknowledging the close link between a circular economy and digitalisation, especially for the services sector, UNI Europa’s consultation reply calls for the close involvement of social partners at all levels and provides initial proposals for policy steps to be taken which can facilitate a just transition to a resource efficient service based economy.
For questions regarding circular economy and sustainability, please contact Hanna Sjölund, firstname.lastname@example.org
For questions regarding digitalisation and sharing economy, please contact Torben Schenk, email@example.com
*The concept is characterised, more than defined, as an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The concept distinguishes between technical and biological cycles. A circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. The circular economy provides multiple value creation mechanisms that are decoupled from the consumption of finite resources. In a true circular economy, consumption happens only in effective bio-cycles; elsewhere use replaces consumption. (Growth Within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, June 2015)