19 February 2019
ILO Trends Report Finds Progress Insufficient to Achieve SDG 8
Mlondolozi Mbolo/Decent Work Regulation
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The ILO's World Employment and Social Outlook for 2019 warns that the world is off track to achieve many SDG 8 targets.

The report calls for an expanded “SDG 8+ framework” that considers indicators related to SDG 5 and SDG 10.

13 February 2019: The International Labour Organization (ILO) has released a report that identifies poor working conditions as the main global challenge in the world of work. The publication finds that progress in reducing unemployment around the world is not matched by improvements in the quality of work, and progress towards SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) has been slower than expected. This situation makes SDG achievement “unrealistic for many countries,” with major gaps within and across countries.

The publication titled, ‘World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO)-Trends 2019,’ warns that the world is off track to achieve many SDG 8 targets. The least developed countries (LDCs) have recorded an annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of less than five percent over the past five years, falling short of SDG target 8.1, which aims to achieve at least seven percent growth in the LDCs. Further, labor productivity is below the level needed to achieve SDG target 8.2 on economic productivity, and the report identifies key obstacles in raising productivity levels, including environmental vulnerability and limited economic diversification.

The report finds that significant effort will be needed to formalize the economy, in line with SDG target 8.3, observing there is a “staggering 2 billion workers,” or 61% of the world’s workforce, categorized as informal. Progress is also needed to improve global resource efficiency and progress on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), in line with SDG target 8.4. Further, although the world has made progress on economic modeling to measure decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise in most countries.

SDG target 8.5 on achieving “full and productive employment and decent work for all…and equal pay for work of equal value” remains elusive. Over 170 million people are unemployed; women, youth and persons with disabilities are less likely to be employed; and gender pay gaps persist. Further, the report finds that one in five young people is “not in employment, education or training” (NEET), reducing their chances of further employment and making it more difficult for the economy to grow over the long term. SDG target 8.6 aims to substantially reduce the proportion of youth in NEET by 2020; the report warns this target “will almost certainly be missed.” In addition, progress in reducing child labor is too slow to meet SDG target 8.6 on reducing child labor by 2025. In 2016, 114 million children aged 5 to 15 years old were employed. On SDG target 8.10 on inclusive development and access to banking, insurance and financial services, the report finds an overall pattern of “extreme disparities in access to financial services.”

At the current rate of progress, the report concludes that SDG 8 is “unlikely to be achieved by 2030.” Lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income countries show the most promise to meet SDG 8 targets on growth and productivity. The report identifies global inequality as a key issue, stressing that the degree of effort needed to achieve SDG 8 is “spread unequally across the world’s regions.” The report argues that worsening rates of inequality are an obstacle to achieving decent work and sustainable growth, and calls for an expanded “SDG 8+ framework” that considers indicators related to SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities). The report states that the ILO will develop a deeper multi-dimensional analysis as part of its preparations for the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which will conduct an in-depth review of SDG 8.

In addition, the report highlights a number of concerns related to: the gender gap in labor force participation, with only 48% of women engaged in the labor force compared to 75% of men; decent work deficits; continued unemployment, with over 170 million people unemployed globally. Damian Grishaw, ILO, cautioned that being in employment “does not always guarantee a decent living,” explaining that 700 million people globally are living in extreme or moderate poverty despite being employed.

The report reinforces the findings of the ‘Report of the Global Commission on the Future of Work,’ and calls for a “human-centered agenda with a focus on people’s wide ranging capabilities” and the potential of labor market institutions. The report argues that the organization of work can reinforce core principles of democracy, equality, social cohesion and sustainability, and it underscores the need to focus more on these issues in analysis of labor market trends. To pursue equity, for instance, the report underscores the importance of shared growth and decent work between and within regions, expanded indicators of labor market performance, particularly on informality, in-work poverty and underemployment. [Publication: World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2019] [ILO Press Release]

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