On 8 February 2023, Doughty Street Chambers will be hosting an event entitled “Climate, Whistleblowing and Work”. The event will be of interest to workers and trade unionists who want to improve their understanding of the protections in place for those who take climate-related action, and to employers who wish to take genuine and robust measures to support their employees and green their workplaces. Our keynote address will be given by Desiree Fixler, a whistleblower who shone a light on the greenwashing practices of DWS. She will be followed by a panel discussion involving Paul Dowling, a partner in the international department at Leigh Day, Sybille Raphael, legal director at Protect and Declan Owens, CEO of Ecojustice Legal Action Centre and Ecojustice Ireland. The event will be chaired by Margherita Cornaglia and Finnian Clarke.
Amongst the multitude of fascinating and urgent topics that will be covered by our speakers, here are three things in particular to look out for.
(1) What are the protections in place for climate whistleblowers and the trade unions supporting them?
Our expert panel will give a helpful toolkit for workers and unions who are considering raising their heads above the parapet and taking disclosures either to their employers or into the public sphere. In particular, our panelists will share their thoughts on the legal protections afforded under the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010, as well as in areas not traditionally considered to be climate-related, such as health and safety and trade union recognition and consultation. But the analysis will not simply focus on the legal structures in place: the role that collective action and the general public can play will also be discussed. In this regard, the personal experience of Desiree Fixler will give a unique insight into the tough reality faced by whistleblowers.
(2) What are the gaps in protection and areas of risk for whistleblowers?
Anyone who has litigated a whistleblowing case knows of the challenges brave litigants face before, during and after legal proceedings. Sybille Raphael, as Director of the UK’s leading whistleblowing charity, has worked on a wide variety of such cases and is perfectly placed to examine the gaps in legal protection and the issues litigants face. Both Sybille and Paul Dowling are keenly aware of the issues facing climate activists before they reach the door of the court, particularly in the absence of a well-funded regulator. Further, Declan Owens will discuss the strictures imposed upon trade unions in this sphere, which range from the narrow definition of a “trade dispute” at common law to the barriers to gaining compulsory recognition.
(3) What means do we have at our disposal to plug these gaps and to take meaningful action on climate change?
What is needed is nothing short of rapid structural change. Businesses and trade unions alike need to wake up to the urgency of the situation facing them and to the difference they can make. There is a wide range of tools in our armoury, many of which are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Both Declan Owens and Paul Dowling have been involved in high-profile strategic litigation in the climate-related sphere and will discuss both the impacts and limitations of such an approach. Sybille Raphael will share reflections on the need for targeted legal reform, and Desiree Fixler will share tips for employees who, like her, may be wishing to raise their voices about environmental malpractice. We also look forward to hearing from each of our speakers as to the wide-scale collective action that is needed, and as to the role that lawyers can play within that.
We hope you will join us for what promises to be an insightful and galvanising evening.