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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: Dirty green jobs, and the $1tn carmaker

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Tuesday, October 26th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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Tesla joined the trillion dollar club yesterday. And internal Facebook documents continue to reveal troubling practises and internal struggles at the company. Plus, green jobs are seen by many as the key to cleaner economies and a healthier environment. But some aren’t so safe for workers.

Sarah O’Connor
I think the word green we often associate with things like safety and cleanliness and sustainability. But it’s worth being a bit realistic about what some of those jobs are.

Marc Filippino
I’m Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Tesla is now a $1tn company according to its stock market value. Yesterday, it became the first car company to ever make the cut. The FT’s Patrick McGee reports on Tesla and used to report on another big automaker when he was based in Germany.

Patrick McGee
I always wondered whether Tesla was going to be worth more than Volkswagen. And it’s now worth something like seven times out of Volkswagen. And I still find it difficult to even comprehend that. I mean, for Volkswagen, for people who don’t know, is the owner of 12 brands including Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bugatti, you know. These are high margin businesses that have ruled the 20th century basically. And for Tesla to be worth all of that seems still, to me, a little bit crazy. And of course, to be worth seven times that is just insane, right? Or as ludicrous as a Tesla’s acceleration.

Marc Filippino
So, Patrick, what should we make of all this? Should Tesla actually be worth a $1tn?

Patrick McGee
So it all depends on whether you think Tesla is an auto company or a tech company that happens to make cars. If it’s an auto company, this clearly makes no sense whatsoever. Something like 90m cars are built a year. Tesla only produces 500,000 of them, right? Its market share is less than one percentage point. For it to be worth more than the next nine automakers combined, clearly makes no sense whatsoever. If, however, you think it’s a tech company that happens to make cars, just like Apple is a tech company that happens to make phones, then you’re sort of in the position that you’re thinking Tesla is going to dominate. And every other carmaker is going to become the next Nokia or Motorola. And in that sense, look, Tesla does have a new revenue model, a sort of subscription for full self-driving, and it has the potential to earn money and profits in a way that no automaker has ever been able to before. And in that sense, you can definitely see it as the iPhone on wheels. And it deserves a totally different premium, more in line with a Facebook or a Google or an Amazon than a Toyota or a Volkswagen.

Marc Filippino
Patrick McGee covers Tesla for the Financial Times.

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Shares of another trillion dollar company were up yesterday, Facebook. That’s despite a continuing flood of information about how the social media company operates internally. Documents that Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked to The Wall Street Journal and then made available to Congress have now been seen in redacted form by other journalists, including our own technology reporter, Hannah Murphy.

Hannah Murphy
There are hundreds and hundreds of pages of these documents stemming back several years, some as far back as 2017. And they chronicle the inner workings of the company in a way that we’ve never seen before. And there’s also revealed throughout is the company’s struggle with growth. Now this is something we’ve known a little bit about, but really, we’re seeing for the first time that the company is particularly having troubles in Instagram and Facebook in attracting younger teen and sort of young adults under 30. You get the sense of the paranoia and the franticness at trying to solve this problem and sort of stop what could be an inevitable decline of the platform.

Marc Filippino
And this is something that, you know, Haugen actually mentioned. But it sounds like the documents you’ve been looking at make this much clearer.

Hannah Murphy
Right.

Marc Filippino
So how is Facebook responding? Or at least you know, what’s the company’s recent messaging?

Hannah Murphy
The first thing that Facebook did when Frances publicly revealed herself was try to cast her as a sort of mid-ranking employee, saying, you know, she wasn’t involved in a lot of conversations and suggest that she’s cherry picking the narrative and sort of spinning as she pleases. And this is what she accuses Facebook back of doing, saying, look, here’s all this data you have internally, and the way you tell your story to investors and to the public is that everything is under control and it’s not. They have then most recently sent a lot of memos suggesting, you know, a lot of bad press is coming. But in some cases this might be because the industries that are covering it, aka the journalism and publishers, have had their own growth struggles recently. Sort of indicating that the press is sort of waging a war against them. And so there’s a sort of an us vs the mainstream media narrative emerging there as well.

Marc Filippino
Hannah Murphy is the FT’s tech correspondent and a quick note on Facebook’s latest earnings report, which was out yesterday. The company said that its third-quarter revenues missed estimates and its fourth-quarter revenues would be hit by Apple’s changes to privacy settings, allowing users to block advertisers from tracking them. Facebook shares ended the day up about 1 per cent and moved higher in after-hours trading.

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Green jobs has become a catchphrase for many politicians. It’ll be a big one at next week’s UN Climate Change Conference or COP26 in Glasgow. The phrase evokes images of people installing solar panels or wind turbines or working in electric car factories. But some jobs that are good for the environment are not good for workers. I’m joined by our workplace columnist Sarah O’Connor to talk more about this. Hi, Sarah.

Sarah O’Connor
Hey.

Marc Filippino
So when you talk about dirty green jobs, are you referring to things like mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, where workers dig up materials used in electric batteries?

Sarah O’Connor
Yeah, exactly. That’s a kind of classic example. If you look at a metal like cobalt, for example, which is at the minute pretty crucial for electric batteries for electric cars and that sort of thing, 70 per cent of all of global cobalt right now comes from the DRC. It’s a country that has huge problems with kind of artisanal mining, child labour, dangerous conditions, mines collapsing, etc. So that’s just one example of how the types of jobs that will actually be required to help us all transition to this kind of net zero world that we’re hoping to get to, they’re not all particularly clean and green and pretty.

Marc Filippino
And it’s not just the jobs that involve collecting resources that we need for a greener economy. Recycling is another kind of green job where working conditions are troubling. Can you can you talk about what you found?

Sarah O’Connor
Yes, so recycling is obviously really necessary if we want to avoid dumping loads of stuff in landfill. But the recycling industry has some problems around the safety of their jobs, pay levels and security. Here in the UK, the safety statistics show that fatal injury rates in waste and recycling sector are about 17 times higher than the average across all industries. So that’s the kind of the second highest. So there are these sorting cabins where people stand at conveyor belts basically, and they pick out particular items and drop them into different buckets. It’s pretty low tech, some of it. And those workers can be exposed to quite high levels of dust, other microbes in the air that have been released by sort of churning up all of this stuff. So yeah, there was a study here in the UK on some of today’s workers, which found that 84 per cent of them said that they were getting sick as a result of their job.

Marc Filippino
And another thing that’s getting kicked around is lead. You’ve cited an e-waste recycling centre in the US that was affecting the children of workers there. So what should employers be doing to avoid these dangers?

Sarah O’Connor
Yes, the lead exposure, but that comes from recycling of electronic waste. By creating huge amounts of electronic waste just because we’re throwing away loads of laptops and phones and all the rest of it so it’s great that we’re trying to recycle that stuff. But the issue is that it’s not been built in a way that makes it particularly easy to recycle. And when you start recycling it, you end up releasing quite a lot of toxic metals, including lead. There are things that you know employers should do because all good employers should do them like thinking about better ventilation, protective equipment, providing showers so that workers don’t accidentally sort of take particles home to their children. But I mean, you can also think a bit more carefully about the entire process, right? Because actually, if manufacturers design these products in such a way that they are designed to be at some point disassembled again, you could make these jobs safer by making these things more straightforward to disassemble and without the release of so many bad side effects.

Marc Filippino
Now, would this cost a lot of money? And does this change the economic calculus for green industries?

Sarah O’Connor
I mean, all of these things cost money. And obviously manufacturers don’t love the idea of changing the way they design things or trying to make them last longer, or make them more repairable. But then again, I mean, the whole argument with climate change is that the cost of doing nothing is so much greater than the cost of doing something. And I think if you want to take people on board with this transition, which obviously politicians do, you need to make sure that actually the jobs that are created as a result of it are decent ones that are helping to contribute to decent quality lives.

Marc Filippino
Sarah O’Connor is a columnist for the FT. Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah O’Connor
Pleasure.

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Marc Filippino
You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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