To achieve a truly inclusive world of work, we must strive for equality and equity.

In September 2015, the UN adopted a plan designed to help everyone have a better future. Achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 'Agenda 2030' will require a collective effort from all sectors of society. As the link between all social partners and the principal provider of livelihoods and security, the World of Work is at the heart of this.

In the spirit of International Human Rights Day, The Adecco Group has set out to shed a spotlight on the opportunities available to the World of Work stakeholders to transform our common progress toward achieving the SDGs. Our fifth article of the Sustainable Development Goals series provides an in-depth analysis of SDG 1 (End Poverty in all its forms), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), and SDG 10 (Reduce Inequality). In this article, we explore the challenges the World of Work is facing today, as well as opportunities to enhance equity and inclusion.

Building upon the previous Millennium Development Goals and with the aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet, government leaders of 193 countries committed themselves to the UN SDGs agenda. The World of Work is a critical arena for combating exclusion and marginalisation because it provides livelihoods, economic opportunity and economic participation.

When the World of Work is truly inclusive and fair, it empowers entire communities and drives prosperity. Thus, labour market stakeholders – governments, employers, trade unions and individuals - have a unique opportunity to advance global progress toward SDGs 1, 5, and 10.


The Covid-19 equality impact


This has never been more important than now, as employment markets and people’s working lives have been altered in previously unseen dimensions. The income gap has widened significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related social and economic consequences have further exacerbated existing inequalities. Women have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Amid the economic slowdown and the extreme health risks, millions continue to experience disrupted education and childcare, family illness, job losses, and income reductions that may last a long time. For the 2 billion workers in the informal economy, which accounts for 61 percent of the global labour force, this presents a particular challenge. Without access to social protection schemes, they experience unabated income losses. Furthermore, and despite already being disproportionately represented among low-income groups, marginalised groups such as minorities and workers with disabilities have now fallen even further behind.

The Sustainable Development Goals 1, 5 and 10 seek to address the interlinked challenges of inequality, focusing on different aspects thereof and targeting different stakeholder groups. In the following, we want to highlight how the World of Work intersects with these challenges and how a fair World of Work can bring about the interventions needed to drive meaningful change towards a more equitable future for everyone.

Advancing SDG 1 by promoting formality, decent work and access to employment

SDG1 leads the Sustainable Development Agenda with the aim to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. An important component of any progress towards that goal is to strengthen “livelihood resilience” by establishing social security systems that have the capacity to help individuals to cope with and recover from disasters. These measures ensure that people once lifted out of poverty do not fall back into it.

The importance of formalised and decent employment as the most sustainable solution to poverty and the inequality of employment statuses cannot be overstated. As the climate changes and transformative mega trends disrupt the global economy, people working in informality face many threats. They are vulnerable to external shocks and increasingly find themselves in poverty. The Covid pandemic has shone a light on how informal workers have been excluded from many measures taken to help people get through the pandemic over the past two years, and cannot access social security and insurance schemes. This meant that they had little to no alternative to continue the often unsafe work in order to survive. Despite wide-spread action by governments to put in place short-term social protection measures in response to Covid-19, according to the UN, 4 billion people are still not covered by social protection.

People who work in diverse forms of work, not in open-ended full-time employment, may face difficulties accessing full social rights, as outdated legislation ties social rights to particular employment statuses. Even those who do have formal access to social protection may not always practically be able to draw on this support. This leaves growing segments of the working population for example without adequate health or pension coverage. The best way to counter this is to make social rights available to everyone, regardless of the type of employment contract they have.


Even though informality is more prevalent in developing and emerging economies, highly developed economies face their own challenges: work that is formalised but indecent cannot be considered a sustainable way out of poverty either, as it often comes at unacceptable costs to the mental and physical health of individuals.

Labour market stakeholders are called upon to come together towards a New Social Contract that accounts for the rapidly changing world of work, clarifies the responsibilities all labour market actors need to assume, and that provides for adequate social protection for all.

Achieving SDG 5 by eliminating bias and discrimination

SDG 5 is focused on driving action towards achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. It tackles one of the most persistent and blatant forms of inequality that puts half of the global population at a systematic disadvantage. Gender equality is a human right and the fight against gender-based marginalisation significantly needs to be stepped up, particularly in the wake of the Covid pandemic given its disproportionate impact on women.

Gender-based inequality continues to exist both within and outside the World of Work. Women remain underrepresented in decision-making bodies, face discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and overly assume unpaid care obligations.

The ILO notes that gender gaps have been hard to close in the past decade. The pandemic has only made things worse: there is an overrepresentation of women on the front lines and thus an increased exposure to health risks, we’ve witnessed an increase in domestic violence, and unpaid domestic care work has soared.

Particularly the rise of gender-based violence points to the larger societal challenge at hand. While global awareness for gender-based marginalisation, violence and discrimination has risen over recent years and perpetrators increasingly face public backlash and criminal investigations for their actions, much of this escapes the eye of the public – and the criminal justice system. Therefore, beyond the responsibilities of governments to protect people, the ILO identified a burden of care that falls to employers and that is not limited to the workplace. Considering the increase in hybrid work, it is even more important that we all realise our obligation not to look away and regularly check-in with friends and colleagues.

It is critical that the World of Work reflects the population it serves. Fighting discrimination across the full HR value chain – from recruitment, to talent management, development and promotion, to reward and recognition - is crucial since it is still too common for marginalised groups to be excluded based on their personal attributes. Processes and practices should focus solely on the skills and qualifications a candidate brings. All decision-making processes should aim for equal representation, whether in boardrooms and senior executive leadership, or in parliaments and local government.

We still have a long way to go. And the World of Work needs to be an arena that leads the fight against gender-based inequality. To drive progress and effectively eliminate (un)conscious biases and discrimination and advance gender equality, we need to reshape and rebuild systems, policies and institutions. And we need more transparency and accountability. Everybody has a role to play to achieve systematic and systemic progress towards these targets to shape a better World of Work that decisively fights discrimination wherever it occurs.

Ensuring equal access to the World of Work to achieve SDG 10

The objective of SDG 10 is to reduce the inequalities within and between countries. Social inequality occurs along many lines: it can be vertical (rich vs poor), horizontal (different groups within society) or even spatial (urban centres vs rural periphery). Actions to tackle SDG10 therefore must be diverse and address such issues as income inequalities between different domestic groups, fair migration and inclusive labour markets, and equal chances to opportunity through education and training.

Access to the world of work is a prerequisite for economic participation and social security. Enabling access to the labour market and quality employment for youth are thereby some of the most effective measures to advance global progress towards SDG10. While it will not eliminate all inequalities that existed before people begin their working life, it is a significant step towards preventing their proliferation. But a lack of formal education, experience and a mismatch of skills present key barriers for young people. Temporary work, internships, work experience schemes and apprenticeships can help them take their first step onto the career ladder, building up that much−needed experience. This has become even more important in the wake of the Covid pandemic, where forced school lockdowns and unequal access to digital learning led to a widening of inequalities and may hamper employment chances of young people for years to come. Employers together with educational institutions have a responsibility and opportunity to facilitate the transition into the labour market and offer suitable opportunities.

Work also acts as a social and economic integrator for refugees and migrants. Language barriers, legal status or issues obtaining accreditation however often hinder migrant communities and refugees from accessing the formalised labour market. By opening formal employment and training opportunities for decent work to refugees and those forcibly displaced, the private sector can play a key role in building resilience and recovery from humanitarian crises.

Diversity of work forms and work-based learning can also provide better solutions for people with multiple responsibilities and those experiencing different forms of inequality. Providing greater flexibility and autonomy for selecting work locations and times can go a long way to including e.g., people with disabilities or populations outside of urban centres that face a lack of opportunities in their communities or such practical hurdles as long commutes and insufficient access to (public) transport. Governments should enable these diverse forms of work, and the social protection to match it, without unnecessary restrictions.

The framework of SDG10 defines empowering and promoting social and economic inclusion of all as the key target for the private sector. This means recognising the diverse challenges that different marginalised communities face and focusing on designing equitable processes. By e.g., implementing barrier- and discrimination-free, inclusive recruitment processes or rethinking job requirements, positive impact can be multiplied and benefit multiple communities. For this, employers need to foster a true culture of Diversity by Design by weaving inclusion and accessibility into their entire HR value chains..

Equality and the World of Work: Labour Market Stakeholders Have a Responsibility

The World of Work can and must play an important role in achieving SDGs 1, 5 and 10. But we must better leverage its opportunities if we are to succeed in this critical mission. All labour market stakeholders have a responsibility to ensure equal opportunities and chances for all in the World of Work.

Governments should step up their fight against informality and make social rights accessible to workers in a wide variety of jobs. In addition, these social rights should also be portable with changes in employment contracts. Better frameworks for flexible work are another remedy to support people in transitioning into the formal economy. We must outlaw any form of discrimination based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, belief, background, legal status or other characteristics, wherever this has not yet been done. The education curricula should better align with the labour market's skills demands, and educational institutions should cooperate with employers to develop innovative learning models that provide students with relevant skills.

Employers should be more active in fighting inequality and leveraging their positions and influence to enable everyone access to and success in the World of Work. Inclusion is key, and employers should systematically screen their processes for discrimination and unconscious bias and provide safe and anonymous reporting lines for individuals to voice abuses. It is essential that marginalised groups receive the support they need to have equal opportunities.

Individuals should help create an atmosphere of acceptance, equality, and respect in their workplaces by being mindful, inclusive and helping to foster such a culture. Importantly, everyone has an obligation to raise their voice against discrimination whenever we observe it.

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The Adecco Group’s Initiatives

At the Adecco Group, we strive to make the future work for everyone. As leading talent solutions and advisory company and one of the largest employers in the world, we want to help people fulfil their potential by improving employability and providing access to work. Each year, we support about 3.5 million people in finding work and provide training for hundreds of thousands more. We recognise our responsibility to advance inclusive employment and enable equal access to employment for underrepresented groups. We seek to advance this both within our own operations and in collaboration with our clients, developing programs that embrace diverse talent, lower barriers to access and drive equality in the world of work, e.g. through Adecco Inclusion, Humando or our Foundations. We work to deliver gender-balanced candidate slates and to remove unjust hurdles from talent pipelines and career processes. In 2020, we supported thousands of people in transitioning to new careers and companies, including by providing pro-bono career transition services to those most affected by COVID-19 related job losses and gave the public free access to many of our training offerings.

We also campaign for more inclusive pathways to employment through collaborating with recognised institutions such as the International Labour Organization, the ILO Business and Disability Network, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Tent Partnership for Refugees, or the European Network against Racism’s Equal@Work Platform.

We are one of the most fervent advocates for a New Social Contract and further seek to advance the Sustainable Development Agenda wherever we can.

It will take bold action and decisive steps by all stakeholders to put an end to discrimination and persistent marginalisation – inside the World of Work and outside of it. We welcome all opportunities to collaborate on advancing the Sustainable Development Agenda and invite everyone to put the fight for systemic equality on the top of their agendas.

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