TUC calls on Raab to reject Australian candidate to lead OECD

The TUC has urged the UK foreign secretary to reject the Australian candidate to lead the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), saying it would set back the fight against poverty and the climate crisis.

Frances O’Grady, the head of the trade union body, said she was concerned that the UK was preparing to vote in favour of Mathias Cormann, the former Australian finance minister who has a reputation for defending Australia’s mining interests and opposing urgent action on climate change.

With four candidates left in the race to lead one of the most influential international bodies, O’Grady said Dominic Raab should reject Cormann in favour of the female candidates – the former EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström or the Greek academic and former education minister Anna Diamantopoulou – who she said had a track record of fighting poverty and tackling the climate emergency.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has hinted he will support Cormann, who is seen as taking the most aggressive stance on China, while it is possible Germany and the US could support the investment banker and former head of the Swiss central bank, Philipp Hildebrand, who has close links to Joe Biden’s White House team and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The UK has not formally declared its preference but O’Grady said she was concerned about speculation that Raab was lining up to support Cormann.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said the UK’s role in managing the selection process meant it would not publicly support a candidate.

A decision is due by the first week of March for the secretary general post, which has always been held by a man.

The OECD is one of several organisations that have become a battleground in recent years between the west and China over human rights abuses, trade and defence policy. Its 37 member countries, mostly in Europe and north America, though joined by Australia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand, Israel, Japan and South Korea, are also split over financial rules that aim to reduce the role of tax havens and tackle climate change.

O’Grady said the OECD played an important role in providing analysis and policy advice to governments around the world and it was “vital to have someone who is a strong supporter of workers’ rights in this role”.

She said: “We are therefore deeply concerned about reports that the UK is considering supporting the candidature of Mathias Cormann as the new secretary general. Cormann was a member of the government of Australia that presided over severe wage stagnation, attacks on trade union rights and a rise in insecure work.”

O’Grady added: “Despite recent attempts to restore his green credentials, his record on climate change is poor: as a senior minister in the Abbott government, Cormann attempted to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

“Supporting this candidate would send the wrong message in a year when the UK is hosting Cop26 and should be showing global leadership in this area,” she said.