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Policy Points: How Business Can Influence Workplace, Trade and Campaign Financing


Voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives and social enterprises are essential but are not game-changers by themselves. In addition, we need laws and regulations that guide our economy toward sound, long-term decision-making, with full recognition of social and environmental externalities. As business leaders, we can and must support policy changes to help make the economy more sustainable.

A sustainable economy will depend on policies that will help advance change on a societal level. Here are three important policies that can do that:

1. Support paid leave, nationally and locally

Action on paid leave in Congress may be stalled, but just down the street, Washington, D.C.’s local government isn’t waiting. The city council introduced legislation earlier this month to give almost every part-time and full-time employee in the nation’s capitol 16 weeks of paid family leave – the most in the United States – to bond with a new child, recover from an illness or military deployment, or care for a family member. The measure is backed by a majority of the council, and originated with a grant program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

What’s at stake: While D.C.’s bill would be the strongest paid leave plan in the country, the city wouldn’t be the first to pass this kind of program; several states have already passed paid leave laws. And while those laws vary, there is no indication at this point that they have been a burden on businesses. In fact, a study of California’s law found that not only had businesses not been hurt, but both they and their employees were also reporting positive effects. That’s because when employees are able to take paid leave, they’re less stressed at work and are able to come back feeling refreshed, both of which are good news for employee efficiency and thus the bottom line.

What you can do: While states and localities continue to move forward on paid leave, action in Congress still represents the best possible option. The United States is the only developed nation without guaranteed paid leave for all workers; that puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Add your business voice in support of national paid leave legislation.

2. Demand sustainable trade deals

In early October, negotiators from 12 Pacific nations, including the United States, announced they had reached a final agreement on the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. The deal would include countries with a combined 40 percent of global GDP, and would remove various tariffs on products imported from other member countries. Among other things, concerns have been raised about the secrecy of the negotiations – even many members of Congress were kept in the dark during the process – and its impact on environmental and labor standards in other nations.

Congress now has at least 90 days to review the deal, meaning a vote will not come until January at the earliest. Because of earlier votes to give the president “fast track” authority, the vote will be held with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments to the deal.

What’s at stake: Done right, trade deals like this can be a boon for the American, and global, economy. By raising labor or environmental standards in other countries, we can see strong movement toward a more sustainable economy, while protecting businesses here in the United States that already play by stricter rules. Done wrong, however, trade deals can weaken the American economy, shipping jobs overseas and putting businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to those in nations with weaker standards.

What you can do: President Barack Obama has said he wants a final TPP to include stronger labor and environmental standards. As Congress begins its review period, it’s crucial that they ensure this deal is implemented in the right way. Tell Congress to make sure this deal raises standards, not lowers them.

3. Call for campaign finance reform

With the 2016 election cycle continuing to heat up, and the first few candidates dropping out, more and more attention is turning to the impact of campaign contributions on candidates. The filing deadline for reports on third-quarter fundraising was Oct. 15, and even before that some candidates announced bringing in tens of millions of dollars in the most recent quarter. However, candidates are also earning the support of Super PACs, which cannot legally coordinate but often manage to skirt that rule. Those organizations have until January to report their fundraising numbers.

What’s at stake: Despite claims that the Citizens United decision – which allowed businesses to spend unlimited amounts on elections – will be a positive thing, many small- and mid-sized businesses do not want to devote resources to campaign contributions, instead focusing on growing their businesses.

Meanwhile, those business interests that do put up lots of cash often do not represent the full range of views of most American business owners. That leads to policy action or inaction that actually hurts the bulk of the business community. And, by raising the appearance of corruption, this spending discourages business people with differing opinions from participating in the process – ultimately making it harder to achieve policy changes that will help the economy grow sustainably.

What you can do: Overturning the Citizens United decision will likely take a constitutional amendment; groups like Move to Amend and Free Speech for People have proposed specific language. Having the business community speak out against the impact of unlimited money will help change the discussion about reforming campaign finance laws. Support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United here.

Image credit: Pixabay

Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Vice President – Public Policy and Business Engagement.

American Sustainable Business Council headshotAmerican Sustainable Business Council

The <a href="http://asbcouncil.org">American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC)</a> is a network of companies and business associations. Its column, Policy Points, identifies public policies where a business voice, grounded in principles of innovation, fairness and environmental stewardship, can make an essential difference in the advocacy process. The goal is to arm readers with information and specific actions to take. As business leaders, we can and must support policy change to help make the economy more green and sustainable. The column editor is Richard Eidlin, ASBC's Vice President - Public Policy and Business Engagement.

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