Employee activism: what is it? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 18, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:31 AM, January 18, 2019

Employee activism: what is it?

Employee activism, in its simplest definition, is the collective effect that employees have on how a company is managed and run under the influence of socio-political changes. Employees are what makes the company, so the way in which employees are affected by company-related events and policy changes significantly determines the quality of the contributions they make in their workplace. 

In April 2018, Google employees from all over the globe, including senior executives and top-tier engineers who have invested into Google's technology development for eons, had signed a petition that claimed that if Google was to continue its involvement with the Pentagon's program, they will walk out on their positions at Google for good. Before this, the Pentagon had negotiated with Google to use its artificial intelligence services to better identify drone strike targets during flight through video imagery. After the petition had gained over 3,100 signatures from valued and dignified employees, it worked as a grand example of how there is a significant clash of interests between the federal government (which may use this technology during war in the future, giving them unfair advantage over any external forces), and Silicon Valley. Google, on the final command of Sundar Pichai, the company's CEO, then pulled out of Project Maven, claiming that Google will never associate itself with building warfare technology. 

A local example of employee activism aimed to recalibrate a potential initiative coined by Grameenphone, the biggest wireless telecommunication network in Bangladesh. Grameenphone announced that it was initiating a project to hand over its operations to a third party. This meant that Grameenphone would outsource operations through tech firms, which would inevitably lead to layoffs. Grameenphone Employees Union (GPEU) placed a 12-point demand to claim the complete annihilation of the endeavor. However, the same announcement made in other phone operator companies run by the parent company Telenor, had evoked no contentions from its employees which led to thousands of Telenor employees in Myanmar and Malaysia being terminated. If GP goes ahead and implements the project, only a handful employees will be retained in the operator's tech team. Till date, Grameenphone made no promises to withdraw this decision, however, the union is relentlessly opposing this issue.

Employee activism has the power to affect businesses both positively and negatively. However, as more and more employees speak out about socio-political issues in hand, employees become more empowered in creating a healthy workplace, while companies become more accountable about their organisational practices. Employee activism, if strategically conducted, has the potential to bring changes from within the organisation.


Susmita is a Literature Major and she lives on tea and sweet toast. Send suggestions and comments at susmita.newaz@gmail.com

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