Greening labour? Trade unions, integrated sustainability and the SDGs

Led by Francesco S. Montesano

The effective integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability by actors in all sectors is a core objective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Do trade unions, as important socio-economic actors, contribute to this agenda by aligning with environmental concerns?

We conducted a qualitative content analysis of primary documentary sources from the International and European Trade Union Confederations focusing on the 2012-2022 period. We complemented this with in-depth interviews from The Netherlands and Belgium.

We found that trade unions have been ‘greening’ their discourses and initiatives, and cooperating more with environmental movements. They also use the SDGs not only as discursive frames, but also to shape concrete initiatives. However, they overwhelmingly see greening still in instrumental terms rather than as a transformative prioritisation of environmental concerns. This is reflected in their engagement with the SDGs, as unions shape the implementation of the SDGs according to their priorities.

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