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Conference: Final Call – Now Boarding! Expressing employees’ strategic interests in Europe’s company boardrooms and the EU Internal Market

This was a two day conference organised in Amsterdam by the European Workers Participation Competence Center (EWPCC) together with Stichting À Propos (NL) and the FNV (Dutch trade union federation). The purpose of the conference was to have a debate among worker representatives in European Companies (SEs) and other multinational companies about how to make use of employee participation rights in decision making at strategic company level and how to push companies in a more socially responsible and sustainable direction. The financial crisis and the associated failure of theories on market discipline and shareholder capitalism create new challenges for strengthening the influence of employees and other stakeholders over multinational companies in transition.

The two day conference was organized for worker representatives at the highest decision-making levels of multinational companies, researchers and trade union experts in this field. It was organized in a communicative and interactive style, since the intention was to provide a platform for the exchange of experiences. In all about 70 persons attended the conference.

After a welcome from the conference organizers, the concept of the Sustainable Company was presented as an alternative model to shareholder value for organizing corporate governance.

This was followed by a panel session chaired by Ieke van den Burg (Stichting À Propos), which included two representatives of the European Commission (Pierre Delsaux, DG Internal Market and Fernando Vasquez, DG Employment) as well as Jacques Schraven (Supervisory Board Member of Stork, Corus, Tata Steel & Chairperson of EuropeanIssuers), who has extensive experience as a practitioner, and Niklas Bruun (University of Helsinki), one of the leading experts on labour and company law in Europe. In this opening session the panelists were invited to express their views about modernisation and adaptation of company law and corporate governance with a view to create more sustainable companies and decision making practices.

In the afternoon of the first day and morning of the second day of the conference four working groups discussed important issues on the corporate governance agenda and practical problems facing board level employee representatives. The topics in the four working groups included the following:

  • The influence of activist investors (such as hedge funds and private equity) on company strategy and operations and how board level employee representatives might deal with these situations
  • Best practice human resources: empowerment of the workforce through training, career planning advance, diversity, work-life balance
  • Reorienting executive remuneration practices away from short-term share performance towards long-term sustainability, including employee satisfaction and environmental goals
  • Restructuring, innovation, R&D investments and the future of – local – high quality workplaces

The results of these working groups were summarized and discussed in a plenary session of all participants.

At the end of the first day of the conference there was a presentation of a new book “In the Union and on the Board” edited by Aline Conchon, Michael Gold and Norbert Kluge (all affiliated with ETUI at the time of the book project). This book presents experiences of board level employee representatives from different European countries. A number of these interviewees were present and were invited to share their experiences with the conference participants.

In a final plenary session all conference participants were invited to summarize the main problems facing board level employee representatives and to develop an agenda for action, including recommendations for practitioners and demands for legislative action.

Participants in the conference also included members of the GOODCORP network, a group of experts concerned with corporate governance issues and organized by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI). The final plenary session included worker representatives associated with the Dutch trade union confederation FNV, which met parallel to the conference.

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Documentation of the conference

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General documents / Plenary session

Workshops

Challenges for worker representatives from activist investors and takeovers

Best practice human resources: empowerment of the workforce through training, career planning advance, diversity, work-life balance

Reorienting executive remuneration towards employees' interests and sustainability

Restructuring, innovation and the future of – local – good quality workplaces

Book presentation: ‘In the Union and on the Board’ – experiences of board level employee Representatives across Europe

Conference Reader

All Activities