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Fostering sustainability: EU Trade Unions advocate for responsible raw material strategies

Claes Mikael Stahl, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), and Judith Kirton-Darling, General Secretary of IndustriAll Europe, emphasize the critical importance of social and environmental considerations in Europe’s pursuit of raw materials independence and security.

The European Commission’s Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), introduced as part of the Green Deal Industrial Plan in March 2023, aims to bolster Europe’s strategic autonomy through sustainable resource exploitation and fair trade agreements. Stahl and Kirton-Darling stress the need for a comprehensive strategy, encompassing sustainable domestic extraction, circular economy principles, research and innovation, and adherence to international standards and human rights.

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While much attention has been directed towards internal actions under the CRMA, the international dimension warrants closer examination. They highlight China and the US’ aggressive pursuit of resource-rich nations through trade and investment policies, emphasizing the need for the EU to counterbalance these efforts. Stahl and Kirton-Darling commend initiatives like the EU’s Global Gateway and the Minerals Security Partnership with the US, which prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards in resource partnerships.

However, they express concern over the EU’s opposition to enforceable ESG standards in trade agreements, particularly in the proposed US-EU critical minerals agreement. They argue that such standards are essential for upholding the social license to operate and ensuring environmental protection. Moreover, they assert that failure to prioritize ESG standards undermines EU policy goals and hampers export opportunities for European industries, such as electric vehicles.

In conclusion, Stahl and Kirton-Darling advocate for the integration of social and environmental conditions in trade agreements to strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy and industrial competitiveness. They call on the EU to uphold its commitment to sustainability and make decisions that prioritize the well-being of European workers and communities.

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