Providing Decent Work & Economic Growth Using Sustainability Principles

“Young people ages 15-24 – who make up 22% of the world’s adult population – often face great challenges in finding employment. And even after they find work, they are disproportionately engaged in low-productivity and low-quality jobs, with few opportunities.”

The World Bank


It is common for youth to have a higher unemployment rate compared to adults as they are usually in school for a large chunk of their life. However, in many middle-income countries, a lot of young people are not involved in any education or employment, adding to the unemployment rate significantly. It is especially common for young women to fall in this group for several reasons such as: their traditional role of taking care of the household and the family, other societal norms limiting their working life, and the gender gap in incomes between men and women.

In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (which was estimated to have a devastating effect on the economy and in turn the labor market), more than 1 in 6 young people stopped working, with those still working having their hours cut by up to 23%. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) compiled employment statistics from their participating countries, including Canada, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Spain, the United States and many more. These statistics reveal that 57 million jobs were lost in OECD countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Also, because of this crisis, wage growth is not able to keep up with the rise of prices in necessities, resulting in vulnerable houses struggling even more. Those struggling also include young workers, migrants and other vulnerable groups that are usually in low-pay industries. 

While unemployment rates appear to be dropping as we recover from the pandemic, it is estimated that the global unemployment rate will continue to be above pre-pandemic level until 2023. 

Global unemployment rate will remain high
Source: UN (2022)

Indecent Work

In addition to the issue of unemployment, young people in low-income countries are typically faced very early on with the need to support their families financially. Consequently, they are usually forced to drop out of school prematurely to get a job at a very young age. Globally 1 in 10 children are engaged in child labour. Jobs in low income countries are usually low paying, sometimes short term jobs, with no possibility of advancement due to their lack of education. 

1 in 10 children engage in child labor globally
Source: UN (2022)

Although first jobs are often considered by many as setting a precedent for a career path, the challenge in low-income countries is that it is common for those with low job prospects to fall into a trap of low paying jobs. Hence, there is a need not just for jobs, but for decent jobs too.

According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, the phrase “Decent Work” means “opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration”. 

Hampered Economic Growth 

Today’s global economic recovery is hampered by COVID-19, rising inflation, supply-chain disruption, policy uncertainties, labor market challenges as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic and financial disruptions resulting in volatility in the financial market and rising insecurity. It is expected that there will be a recession, possibly worse than the recession in 2009, and with the increase in unemployment, it is estimated that “nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing their livelihoods”

Annual Growth Rate of Global Real GDP Per Capita (%)
Source: UN (2022)

While it is challenging for many countries to sustain a GDP growth, countries that are actually growing are often doing so unsustainably, using resources that are not renewable, degrading their environment, and causing damage to the health and well-being of future populations. 

Working towards Sustainable Decent Work and Economic Growth

The United Nations believes in investments in high quality education and training for youth, and providing them with skills needed in the labor market. It is also important to give youth access to services and social protection no matter what job contract they have as well as ensuring all youth, regardless of their income level, background, gender, etc. are able to attain decent and productive work that will benefit them now and in their future. 

Governments should work to build people-centered economies that are sustainable and promote youth employment and development as well as women’s empowerment specifically. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to implement and ensure the health and safety of workers and working environments. 

It is massively important to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth as this has several benefits. Not only will it drive progress but also create sustainable decent work and improve living standards for all. What governments should consider is the “decoupling” of environmental degradation and GDP/economic growth. In hand with this is the promotion of green growth and jobs, and the importance of protecting natural resources, considering renewables, and protecting the environment. 

“In addition to sustained job creation, Goal 8 recognizes that decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation is fundamental to sustainable development.” 

The World Bank

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth

The United Nations developed SDG 8 and its targets to be achieved by 2030. The overall aim of the goal is to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. The SDG 8 targets include:

8.1 Sustainable Economic Growth – Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7% gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries.

8.2 Diversify, innovate and upgrade for economic productivity – Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labor-intensive sectors.

8.3 Promote policies to support job creation and growing enterprises – Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services.

8.4 Improve resource efficiency in consumption and production – Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavor to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with developed countries taking the lead. 

8.5 Full employment and decent work with equal pay – By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.

8.6 Promote youth employment, education and training – By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training. 

8.7 End modern slavery, trafficking and child labor – Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms. 

8.8 Protect labor rights and promote safe working environments – Protect labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment. 

8.9 Promote beneficial and sustainable tourism – By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. 

8.A Universal access to banking, insurance and financial services -Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all.

8.B Increase aid for trade support – Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries.

8.C Develop a global youth employment strategy – By 2020, develop and operationalize a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labor Organization. 

SDG 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

Learn More:

EnvironFocus is hosting a webinar event on SDG 8, on Thursday, October 20th, 2022 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM EDT, titled “Providing Decent Work and Economic Growth using Sustainability Principles”. We will be joined by expert guest panelists Genevieve Peters, and Madhavi Venkatesan. Panel presentations will be followed by a live Q&A session. Tickets to this insightful event cost only $45/participant. Register here


The Global Goals. (2022). 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2022). Employment Outlook 2022: Tacklick the cost-of-living crisis.

The World Bank. (2017). Decent Work and Economic Growth.

United Nations Environment Programme. (2022). Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

United Nations (2022). Decent Work and Economic Growth: Why it Matters.

Alicia Advincula
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