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.