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Labour Law for a Warming World?

Can labour law play a role in a shift to more sustainable modes of production and work organization? Could adoption of an ecological perspective, or one grounded in the notion of long-term sustainability, benefit labour lawyers?

Responding to climate change is one of the most important challenges of our century, in which the shift to greener and more sustainable modes of production and consumption will play a key role. Transnational policy setting and regulatory bodies have begun to explore the implications of this shift for work systems and the structure of local labour markets, but their main focus has been the development of “green jobs” and “green skills” to promote sustainable growth and better match labour supply and demand, to avert the social, and economic consequences of future job loss in sectors likely to be eradicated due to regulatory requirements linked to green house gas reduction targets, and as climate change-related loss of biodiversity affects traditional livelihoods. While changes in work and work processes feature prominently in these analyses and proposals, much less emphasis has been placed on both, how these changes might affect work regulation, and on the role that labour and employment regulation can play in a shift towards a more sustainable future. This gap is present also in legal and socio-legal literatures, which have only scantly engaged with the relationship between, and the synergies (or conflicts) between, labour and environmental law: their underlying normative projects and the interaction between the regulatory frameworks in each area, whether at the national or transnational level. Although some labour lawyers have begun to examine the utility of the concept of “just transition” for mapping the intersection of labour and environmental law, for the most part, despite the fact that both mainstream and heterodox labour law scholarship has been for some time preoccupied with the project of rethinking and challenging the boundaries and normative foundations of labour and employment law to make it more responsive to contemporary social and economic realities, the subjects of sustainability or climate change-related challenges have been nearly absent from these debates.

The 2016 SLSA annual seminar Labour Law for a Warming World? Exploring the intersections of work regulation and environmental sustainability (University of Warwick Institute for Advanced Study, 12 September 2016), brought together scholars interested in exploring the relationship between work and nature, and possibilities of work regulation that is attuned to contemporary social and environmental sustainability challenges. One of our intentions was to address the current gap in the debate on the future of labour law, in which the subjects of environmental sustainability have been nearly absent. You can find more details on the seminar, including programme and who was involved here.

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Papers developed on the basis of this seminar were featured at the 3rd Labour Law Reserach Network Conference in Toronto (25-27 June 2017) and the CES conference in Glasgow (12-14 July 2017).
For more information on the project and publication plans, please contact a dot zbyszewska at warwick dot ac dot uk