#38 SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

Image of UN goal 8
Image by United Nations

When considering SDG target 8 and its focus on decent work and economic growth it is important to look at both the past and the present.

This is not just for a point of comparison but there is a very important message that is key to unlocking two important points worthy of discussion. Firstly, in understanding the inequalities that exist between standards of work and economic growth. Secondly, what needs to be understood about decent work and economic growth in this 21st century.

As with all the Consequences Blogs this year I have been keen to share how the SDGs form an important part of everyday life as well as their global aspirations. In this Blog #38 I expand on some employment and economic growth blocks that impact us all.

A well recognized block is a repetitive theme that has been running through all the Consequences Blogs “ if we keep doing the same thing we will get the same results – possibly worse”!

With regards to decent work and economic growth we have been having the same dialogue for a while and I am curious whether any changing action has taken place. For example, since the dialogue around STEM (science; technology; engineering; math) was introduced advancements have started to consider whether we need more than just science priorities for Australia future. – I say yes! When thinking about such blocks the relationship between the future and past can be quite informative.

Blocks become a problem when the dialogue around decent work and economic growth is based on the future but actions are welded in the past. Vital signs: living in the past won’t distract from our current economic woes presents an important argument of the measurement frame used to measure such developments of decent work and economic growth. Both of these measures are historically grounded in a dialogue solely based around GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita. Fast tracking to the kind of future discussion is the introduction of using GWP (General Wellbeing Product). Using traditional methods for analyzing work and economic growth for the future does not hold the value that it needs to have.

The RSA in counting the cost beyond GDP and GWP measures to new metrics of inclusive growth describe the reason for the shift in awareness to GWP.

“GDP debate’ was an academic question largely pursued on the fringe of mainstream economic and social policy by NGO; fighting the tides of de-industrialisation, globalization and capitalism – but in the mid to late 2000’s it began to pick up a serious political faction”

Imagine a future where decent work meant that wellbeing was the focus of measures rather than extreme productivity pressure. I am also keen to establish a clear understanding that there is a key difference in traditional and future approaches and expectations to enable decent work and economic growth for the 21st century.

For example at an Ecocity summit considering the type of city to embrace decent work and economic growth for the 21st century it became clear that “market driven competition is no way to build an ecocity”. This in turn is underpinned by the politics that are more suited for traditional cities and ways of living. Looking at the current Trump and Brexit world political stage such status is called into question. The question has been asked repetitively – is capitalist democracy possible? What impact does this have on decent work and economic growth? This debate identifies how politics that benefit a traditional capitalist approach are likely to diverge from those that benefit citizens. The benefits for citizens are considered in the UK through a measure of social mobility. In data drawn from the OECD it has been identified that where people perceive opportunities for social mobility to be poor, they are much more likely to vote for populist policies. This action confirms why solving social mobility is a vital political move but it also begs the question why does decent work and economic growth seem to be decreasing rather than improving.

Target 8 with its full intentions to enhance decent work and economic growth are key indicators in improving social mobility. I am keen to consider what actions can be taken to move the dial on the negative trajectories and their obvious relationship with the spiral of deprivation. Since 2012 a multi indicator index that assesses the social and environmental performances across different countries – The Social Progress Index (SPI) was established. The SPI is set as an effort to complement the GDP and GWP debate. Reinforcing the argument that considering GDP per capita on its own is not good enough. How the SPI aligns with the global goals has been considered as localizing the SDGs. This is a great reminder that alignment between the local footprint and being set within global capacity is one of the keys to a sustainable future, which of course includes decent work and economic growth.

The levers for such change is aligned at both the micro and macro level as well as parts in between. At the macro level an Independent Report provided an info-graphic of the ten companies that control everything you buy. If such selling and purchasing power can be captured on a single page then surely in this 21st century it must be possible to find a way to collaborate to suit 21st century needs. Bringing this conversation to an individual employment level means new ways of working. A newly introduced phrase describing the type of work of the future is the ‘gig economy’ Once again the RSA have prompted thinking for the pros and cons through a high principled report into the gig economy that will fail to deliver. The key message in this argument is not for the gig economy to be constructed using traditional ways of thinking or measuring. For example, bringing the GWP measurement frame into describing what decent work and economic growth more importantly recognizing this may look very different than through a GDP lens.

There is little argument that the world of employment and its economic surroundings are changing but the tension of doing things differently to accommodate such changes appears to be more of a challenge. In my research I referred to the enabling paradigm to describe the paradox between traditional and contemporary approaches. Likewise there have been many other colloquial phrases used to describe this fast pace and point in time such as The Fourth Revolution; purpose economy; knowledge era; mobility ecosystem but the one I love the best is – industry4.0! The discussions around industry 4.0 explore the changing workforce and ask questions such as does the next industrial revolution spell the end of the manufacturing jobs?

If there has been one point of commonality that I have discovered for decent work and economic growth in the future is that the lens to be considered cannot be based on traditional approaches with measures based solely on economic growth. I am pleased to note how this discussion is alive in Australia. As noted in an early year report even though some CEOs show skepticism over Globalisation recognition is granted that doing things the same way is an amber light! Building on both local and global discussions the importance of differing approaches has become quite topical.

“In the headlong rush to reap benefits of technology and globalization, the human factor has been lost. It’s time for CEOs to step forward and help safeguard the future by ensuring the benefits of business go to everyone”

Such a responsibility for decent work and economic growth does not lie at the feet of CEO’s, we all share a responsibility in bringing these metrics into practice. Most importantly that a balance is found between the weighting of GWP and GDP – our sustainable future depends upon it!

References

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg8

‘These 10 companies control everything you buy’ www.inependent.co.uk Monday 7 November 2016

CEOs Show skepticism over globalization benefits www.probonoaustralia.com.au Tuesday 17 January 2017

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