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Seminar Report

The 2016 SLSA annual seminar Labour Law for a Warming World? Exploring the intersections of work regulation and environmental sustainability took place at the University of Warwick Institute for Advanced Study on 12 September 2016. The event 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. With this in mind, the seminar participants discussed whether there are potential synergies between labour and environmental law – their underlying normative projects, regulatory frameworks, and activism in each area.

Individual contributions ranged from conceptual to empirically-informed explorations. Grounding his reflections in classical labour law doctrines, Niklas Selberg (Lund University Faculty of Law, SE) suggested better alignment of labour law with sustainability objectives can be achieved if we re-define the basic entities that are exchanged in the employment relationship. Seeking also to expand the scope of labour law, Supriya Routh (University of Victoria Faculty of Law, CA) and Ania Zbyszewska’s (Warwick School of Law, UK) contributions both proposed a post-productivist approach to labour law as the one most compatible with socio-environmental sustainability, grounding it, respectively, in the notion of public good and feminist theory. Feminist theory was also the starting point for Ann Stewart’s (Warwick School of Law, UK) reflections on the labour implications, and the social and environmental sustainability, of the social-care model currently promoted in the UK. Sam Adelman’s (Warwick School of Law, UK) conceptual contribution examined how the Marxian notion of alienation can help us understand the conditions faced by agricultural migrant workers.

Focusing on regulatory aspects, Tonia Novitz (Bristol School of Law, UK) discussed sustainability chapters of international trade agreements as a key regulatory area wherein environmental and labour standards intersect. Miriam Kullmann (Maastricht University Faculty of Law, NL) considered whether public procurement, as currently regulated at the EU level, could be used to advance environmental objectives. Paolo Tomassetti (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, ADAPT, IT) drew on the example of Italy to show how employment law, collective bargaining, and company codes of conduct are already placing environmental matters on the agenda.

Issues involved in the ‘transition’ to a greener economy were also the subject of comments by Chelo Chacartegui (Universitat Pampeu Fabra Faculty of Law, SP), who examined how workers’ participation is shaping environmental governance in Spain. Alice Mah’s (University of Warwick, Sociology, UK) drew on her fieldwork on environmental justice activism to talk about the ‘false’ tensions between the workers’ rights and environmental protection objectives. Finally, the green skills, a necessary component of a shift to green jobs and sustainable economies, was the subject of Nicholas Sofroniou’s (Warwick Institute for Employment Research, UK) contribution.

We would like to thank the SLSA and the University of Warwick Faculty of Social Sciences for their generous funding.