Howitt has always been keen to celebrate the continuing relevance of the trade union movement in the UK and overseas. Based on the fundamental principles of unity and solidarity, Howitt has joined others against the UK government’s proposed development aid cuts whilst achieving an agreement to put a cap on banker’s bonuses. Howitt has been involved in several other successful campaigns whilst being an MEP representing the East of England, a few of which are listed here.
Howitt helped to win big EU investment in the region’s rail and other transport networks. He succeeded in extending eligibility so that Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex became eligible for a share of £60 million per year EU funding for twinning projects and to work with organisations such as the Prince’s Trust to run EU projects to help unemployed young people in his constituency. This was just part of the £300 million Howitt helped to attract specifically for the region.
At the Rio+20 talks in 2012 Howitt was supporting the UK Labour Party to seize the pro-business case for mandatory sustainability reporting. He stated that UK businesses, including all those in the FTSE100 top companies in the UK were producing annual sustainability reports under the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a coalition of companies, environmental NGOs and the United Nations Environment Programme. The UK Government announced plans to implement Labour's framework.
As a member of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, Howitt joined campaigns against cuts and austerity, campaigning instead for jobs and services. The group won a European-wide agreement to introduce a youth jobs guarantee, which the UK Conservative government has not yet said whether or not it will implement.
Howitt was one of many who voted all the labour rights of the Social Chapter in to British law. After the tragedy of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, Howitt personally piloted through a new law to make multinationals accountable for their record overseas, including on health and safety, to ensure the same tragedy was not repeated.
European Socialists are implementing proposals for the Robin Hood Tax, a campaign fighting for everyone to pay their fair share. In the UK, this includes not just looking at tax advantages for the very wealthy, but looking also at zero-hour contracts, the bedroom tax, disability assessments, cuts to legal aid and the reduction of workplace inspectors.
The issue of working time is not just a UK issue. Compromise is being sought on the European rules for those not just on zero-hour contracts, but also those working excessive hours. In the UK, people have been forced to take part-time employment, with more than 300,000 people in the East of England affected this way.
In 2012, the oil refining sector in Europe was suffering from over-capacity, restructuring and planned closures. An oil refinery in Howitt’s constituency was marked for closure. Howitt argued that energy security around oil was just as important as the accepted arguments around gas. His concern was that unstable countries were fulfilling UK orders for refined oil and he urged the European Commission to do more.
Howitt helped reform the UK Government’s National Contact Point under the guidelines of the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprise. These allow specific complaints of social or environmental abuse by British business overseas to be investigated and determined. The reforms have been signed up in 42 countries.
After the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and with the ongoing challenges of climate change, business and capital markets focus on the short-term was considered a major fault to be challenged and changed. Howitt attended the World Economic Forum with the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and the UN Global Compact, to lead a debate on shifting business and markets towards long-termism. His work on corporate governance to include accountability to other stakeholders in society, not just shareholders is one that continues after his Parliamentary career.
Whilst in the European Parliament, Howitt had been discussing how to encourage and incentivise shareholder activism, investor engagement and how companies address social, environmental and human rights impacts of their businesses. These are as important to the future of the company as the economic impacts contained in traditional corporate reporting. Whilst sometimes called 'non-financial reporting' as an umbrella term, these impacts need to be recognised as having a real financial cost.
This can only happen if there is corporate governance. Boards and senior management have to see the relevance of the information so that it becomes mainstream. Whilst Howitt was part of two directives, he acknowledged these were not the perfect solutions, but still a significant step forward.