Sustainable Development

Why is the world of work so closely linked to the UN'S Sustainable Development Goals?

The world of work, shown by people at their desks, is the common denominator in all of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

'Each SDG represents a call to action for stakeholders to come together to protect our planet and our future.' Image: UNSPLASH/Israel Andrade

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  • The Adecco Group is launching a new campaign that explains the important relationship between the world of work and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • The campaign provides insights for the next steps organizations need to take, while also laying the foundation for discussions on reaching the 2030 agenda.
  • If businesses, governments and individuals unite, the future can become a better place for everyone, says Adecco.

The world of work connects all social partners and is the principal provider of livelihoods and security. It’s crucial, now more than ever, for labour market stakeholders to come together and realise the tremendous opportunity, and responsibility, they have to create a more sustainable future.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, first came to being in 2015, when member states adopted a plan to achieve a better future for everyone. Building on the previous Millennium Development Goals, the plan included a path to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet.

Those goals may seem quite lofty, but at the heart of those goals lies a common denominator: the world of work. The world of work connects all social partners and is the principal provider of livelihoods and security. It’s crucial, now more than ever, for labour market stakeholders to come together and realise the tremendous opportunity, and responsibility, they have to create a more sustainable future.

As the UN General Assembly ends its annual session, bringing together all UN members in New York, we want to shine a light on our collective responsibility, as shapers and participants of the World of Work, to leverage our expertise and impact to make employment a key driver of sustainable development. Never has the need for this been more apparent than now, as the pandemic has rapidly transformed the world we live and work in.

For that reason, The Adecco Group is launching a new campaign that underlines the touchpoints between the World of Work and the SDGs. It aims to provide insights for next steps and the ground for a wide discussion contributing to the achievement of the 2030 agenda. Here’s everything you need to know.

this graphic shows the Sustainable Development Goals for the world of work
The Sustainable Development Goals for the world of work. Image: The Adecco Group

Understanding the SDG key messages

Some of the SDGs are directly linked to the world of work – and with others, the tie may not seem so obvious. That’s why we’ve organised each goal into its own group: group one having the closest ties, and group three having the seemingly farthest ties. Nonetheless, all the UN SDG goals have an impact on the labour market. Many of the goals also have an impact on each other. How so? Read on.

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The responsibility to lead

The world of work is shifting, and to keep up, we share a mutual responsibility to create sustainable employment and learning opportunities for all, with a new focus on skills and employability. That’s where SDG 4 comes in, which calls for quality education and lifelong learning for all. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this goal and its impact on the world of work.

Why? It’s crucial to create more transparency when it comes to skills and learning to help workers better navigate the transitions ahead, whether that means the digital transition, the green transition, or the flexible working future. Providing more skilling opportunities for everyone searching for employment will help them better adjust to the changing future. That’s one of the SDG goals, too: SDG 8, which focuses on economic growth, full and productive employment as well as decent work for all.

It’s not just skills, though. It’s important to also improve mobility in the job market for talent. Flexibility in the labour market will make the world of work more equitable and will make it work for people, no matter their circumstances, their gender (which relates to SDG 5, aiming for gender equality), or other protected characteristics.

It is our shared responsibility to improve access to the labour market for everyone. It should be in the interest of everybody to seek the best possible alignment between education systems and the labour market. One way we can do that? Implement apprenticeships, improve internship and other work-based learning opportunities, and increase upskilling and reskilling offerings. This will help reduce inequality in the long term (another SDG goal) and improve workers’ lives and livelihoods.

The wellbeing challenge

When it comes to the UN’s goal to end poverty, it’s important to note that formalised employment is key to fighting poverty and establishing basic layers of social protection. The world of work has a responsibility to fight informality and exploitation.

Many existing inequalities materialise particularly in the working world. For example, through pay gaps, access hurdles, discriminatory hiring and promoting, and the oppression of workers. The impact that labour market participants can have to achieve these SDGs therefore cannot be overstated. Employers must lead the way – and they have a responsibility to take action now.

Acknowledging the needs of workers and providing room for exchange between employers and workers is an effective tool to make sure that employment relationships are sustainable. People need to be at the centre for a sustainable Future of Work.

The pandemic has forever changed the world of work and the way we understand crisis resilience. Providing a safe working environment is key to a worker’s wellbeing and being able to adapt to changing Health & Safety requirements is a key component of whether a company can operate or not.

We spend a significant time of our lives at work and the conditions we work in, both physical and mental, can have a detrimental - or positive - impact on our well-being.

Acknowledged by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Businesses impact human rights whenever and wherever they operate and have a responsibility to respect them.

At the end of the day, the world of work brings together individuals, businesses and governments. This is a key lever for us to have an impact on the 2030 agenda, and it’s our responsibility to listen and learn – and adapt accordingly. The world of work is not just a forum, it is a platform that catalyses the needs of society. As such, labour market participants are uniquely positioned to use their engagement with each other to achieve the SDGs.

How employment can multiply impact

Businesses and individuals alike will face challenges when embracing more circular business models to transform the global economy, which is imperative to achieve SDGs 12 and 13. A focus on the skills that drive employment is needed to ensure that businesses have the people they need to navigate the transformation and individuals maintain their employability in a sustainable manner. The labour market and the skills it offers are the key enablers of the green transition.

To mitigate the impact on those that are at risk of losing their livelihoods due to either the direct effect of climate change (workers like farmers or those in coastal communities), or the indirect effect caused by the need of businesses to adapt (like expiring skills, phasing out of unsustainable practices), labour market stakeholders need to collaborate to create new opportunities for affected people and foster more transparency about potential risks to employability -- and provide remedies like reskilling and upskilling, counselling, or and career guidance.

Ensuring decent employment relationships at the heart of consumption and production processes is fundamental to realising SDG 12. Labour rights are human rights. This is also reflected in and safeguarded by international standards and the regulatory environment. Through responsible business conduct and by engaging suppliers and clients, businesses can multiply positive impact through supply and value chains.

Every SDG matters to actors in the world of work

Whether directly or indirectly, employment and employability play a crucial role in the realisation of each SDG. For example, SDG 14 aims at conserving and sustainably using ocean resources and SDG 15 at protecting the terrestrial ecosystem – not so much to do with the labour market? Well, hang on.

Overfishing, deforestation and land degradation are just a few of the key challenges these SDGs aim to address. As businesses transition towards more sustainable business models, in order to reduce overfishing or deforestation, this will have a big impact on labour markets, and potentially on the skills required. The fallout on the environment directly robs many of their means to generate an income and leaves them dependent on an inclusive labour market. Furthermore, the adaptations needed, have a direct impact on our access to raw material and consequently to our global supply chain.

Ultimately, it comes down to jeopardising employment opportunities. Hence, not only do businesses have a responsibility to strive toward the achievement of the Agenda 2030, but it is also in their interest – as labour market shapers, to ensure the protection of the planet and the people.

The Adecco Group’s sustainability campaign

Each SDG represents a call to action for stakeholders to come together to protect our planet and our future. While they cover a wide range of issues, they all have one thing in common: The World of Work is inextricably linked to their success and businesses, governments and individuals alike have the responsibility and the unique opportunity to join efforts to make the future work for everyone.

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Sustainable DevelopmentJobs and the Future of Work
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