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Policy Points: Net Neutrality, Sick Leave and Better Trade


By Richard Eidlin

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 will help – and specific actions you can take.

1. Preserve net neutrality

Small- and mid-sized businesses got a major win last month, when the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to approve new net neutrality regulations that would regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under Title II of the Communications Act. If it survives challenges in court, it means that ISPs must treat all Web traffic the same and not be allowed to charge more for faster service. A previous FCC rule would have allowed a two-tier system; more than 4 million comments were submitted, including many business comments.

Unfortunately, even with the FCC’s rule, the debate isn’t over yet. The new rules are expected to be challenged in court, and the potential remains for Congress to try and block their implementation.

What’s At Stake

A level playing field for Internet speeds will ensure that innovative entrepreneurs will have a fairer chance to succeed in competition against entrenched, scaled companies that can more easily pay for faster loading speeds.

What You Can Do

Businesses have an important role to play by showing their support for strong net neutrality rules and encouraging Congress to let these rules stand.

2. Support earned sick days

Last month, we wrote about the importance of paid leave for the American economy. As we mentioned, there are a couple of ways to improve the current situation; one is paid leave for new mothers, while the other is earned sick days which could be used more broadly.

A bill in Congress, the Healthy Families Act, would let workers earn an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked -- up to 56 hours of paid sick leave. Several states and cities (PDF) are also considering paid sick days bills; three states, Washington, D.C. and several cities have succeeded in passing them.

What’s At Stake

Anyone who’s gone to work sick can tell you that you can’t do your best work with a massive headache. That loss of productivity is a major drag on the American economy; by one estimate, the costs of “presenteeism” -- working while sick -- total $150 billion a year. That’s real money lost by businesses, and it only gets worse if an employee comes in and gets others sick. In cases where employees work with the public, like restaurants or retail, those customers can get sick -- risking consumer confidence in that business.

What You Can Do

The Healthy Families Act has been reintroduced in Congress earlier this year. The key now is to show that American businesses recognize that good workplace policies like these are good for their bottom lines, and for the economy. Business leaders can show their support here.

3. Make better trade deals

The Obama administration continues to negotiate a pair of trade deals -- one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), includes a number of major Asian economies, among them Vietnam, Japan and Singapore. Congress does not have to vote to approve any trade deals, but the White House proposed having Congress consider these under a process known as “Fast Track” -- where Congress would have to vote on the bill without adding any amendments, and with very little opportunity for debate.

What’s At Stake

Trade deals can be a boon for the economy, but what we know of the TPP is worrisome. It has been negotiated in secret, with even members of Congress being excluded, and apparently includes provisions that could overrule local governments that pursue sustainable goals in agriculture, energy, pharmaceutical pricing and more. “Fast Track” is the single largest concern because it will make it harder for any of those provisions to be removed in congressional debate.

What You Can Do

Given what we know about TPP, allowing it to be Fast-Tracked could be devastating to American businesses, our economy and our environment. Members of Congress can refuse to go along with the administration here, and it is crucial they hear from businesses that are concerned about these provisions and how the trade deal could be rammed through.

Image credit: Flickr/GlobalTradeWatch

Policy Points is produced by the American Sustainable Business Council. The editor is Richard Eidlin, Director – 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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