UN Sustainable Goal #8: Decent Work & Economic Growth

June 3, 2019

Employment and economic growth are two key factors in a country overcoming poverty. Increase the capacity for nations to develop and offer residents opportunities to make a decent living and you reduce the dependency on external aid and support. This is why, when the UN announced its global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in 2015, work and the economy was a central feature. Decent Work & Economic Growth is goal number 8 of the 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Here, we take a brief look at what that goal is, how it's measured, what progress has been made and how brands can contribute to it being achieved.


SDG number 8 focuses on work and the economy and is listed on the UN website as “promot(ing) sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. The UN goals are interlinked and SDG#8 relates in some way to the other 16 goals, in particular SDG#1 (poverty), #2 (hunger), #9 (industry and innovation) and #10 (inequality).

Each SDG has a number of targets (there are 169 in total, spread across the 17 SDGs) along with indicators to measure progress. SDG#8 has 12 targets and 17 indicators, which are:

  • Economic growth, with at least 7% annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the poorest nations.
  • Economic productivity through diversification and technological upgrading (measured through annual GDP growth per employed person).
  • Promotion of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation (measured by proportion of informal employment in non-agricultural employment).
  • Improved resource efficiency through consumption and production to minimise environmental degradation (measured by national material footprint and consumption).
  • Full, productive and decent employment for all including equal pay for work of equal value (measured by hourly earnings and unemployment rates across age sex and disabilities).
  • Reduce the number of youth NEET (not in employment, education or training) by 2020 (measured by proportion of people aged 15-24 who are NEET).
  • Ending forced labour, trafficking, slavery and child labour (measured by proportion of children aged 5-17 involved in labour).
  • Protect labour rights and promote safe, secure working environments (measured by rates of serious occupational injuries and freedom to join trade unions).
  • Implement policies for sustainable tourism to create jobs ( measured by tourism GDP and number of jobs in tourism).
  • Improve access to banking, insurance and financial services (measured by number of bank branches and ATMs per 100,000 people and proportion of adults with a bank account).
  • Increase Aid for Trade support for the least developed countries.
  • Develop a global strategy for youth employment and implement the Global Jobs Pact of the International Labour Organization (ILO) by 2020 (measured by government spending on social and employment programmes).


Progress on this goal has been uneven to date, with positive data overshadowed by statistics from least developed countries that show limited early signs of improvement or even deterioration. Obviously it's early days in terms of what statistics are showing but the 2018 UN Report on SDG progress highlights that:

  • Although the global GDP per capita is growing steadily, the growth rate for the least developed countries has fallen from 5.7% between 2005-09 to 2.3% between 2010-16. This is well below the 7% target for 2030.
  • Labour productivity grew globally by 2.1% in 2017, but it's falling in some countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, Honduras and Afghanistan.
  • 61% of workers worldwide are still in insecure, informal employment.
  • Gender inequality is still pervasive, with men earning an average of 12.5% higher wages.
  • Global unemployment and youth unemployment are reducing, with average global unemployment at 5.7% and youth unemployment at 13% in 2017. But there are large regional variations, with some countries experiencing over 25% unemployment and Honduras with nearly 42% youth unemployment.
  • Only 35% of adults in low-income countries have bank accounts (lower for females) compared to close to 100% in high-income countries.

There are numerous projects underway in developing countries to try and reduce these global inequalities. These include:

  • India – where the government has implemented several initiatives including the National Skills Development Mission, an Innovation Mission and a Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in an attempt to reduce inequalities and bring decent work to all.
  • Cote D-Ivoire – where there are programmes to end child labour and create more job opportunities for women and young people, including development of entrepreneurial skills.
  • Bangladesh – in a country where women are often either excluded from the workforce or forced into low-paid work, a national programme aims to improve the transferable and vocational skills of female workers.
  • Honduras – has implemented a sustainable tourism programme to promote growth and create jobs for locals.


One big challenge, not just for SDG#8 but for all of the goals, is making sure that an overall move in the right direction doesn't obscure a failure among the least developed nations. It's early days but it can already be seen that there is a long way to go in certain parts of the world with things such as reducing insecure employment, tackling gender inequalities and improving access to financial services. Several SDG targets are vague, asking for general improvement/reduction rather than being tied to specific milestones, so judging success could become contentious.

Another challenge is making sure that some targets aren't achieved at the expense of others. There is arguably more tension between targets for SDG#8 than other goals and some have noted how it brings together conflicting development approaches – market-centred (economic growth) vs rights-based (decent work, employment conditions). When some of the biggest global companies today are still profiting from employees working in poor conditions on insecure contracts (e.g. Amazon) or continuing to cause widespread pollution (e.g. Coca-Cola, Nestle), it highlights how more growth and more businesses has the potential to negatively impact other areas.

Finally, there is the challenge of overcoming the disadvantages experienced by particular groups or sections of society (women, elderly, youth, disabled, migrants) which are often hidden when analysis of these projects are carried out. Some of the indicators for measuring the success of SDG#8 have been criticised for being too broad-scale (e.g. overlooking the value of unpaid care and domestic work, much of which is done by women).


There are many ways that brands both big and small can contribute to SDG#8 both in their own countries and overseas. These can include things such as:

  • Aligning their own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy to incorporate SDG#8.
  • Ensuring that production lines are ethical both in terms of working conditions/rights and minimising environmental damage.
  • Investing in or providing skills training in parts of the world where this is needed.
  • Offering decent pay, good working conditions, benefits and secure contracts to their own employees.
  • Offering paid apprenticeships or internships to young people.
  • Donating profits to SDG projects in the least developed countries.


  • Microsoft - has been teaching digital skills and computer skills to young people worldwide through its YouthSpark initiative.
  • Unilever – co-founded the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) in 2016, which aims to create 380 million jobs worldwide by 2030.
  • Elegantees – New York-based fashion brand whose garments are produced at a sewing center in Nepal where women trying to escape the sex industry learn new skills and become independent contractors paid a living wage.
  • Parker Clay – sells leather and cotton travel accessories made by artisans and seamstresses in Ethiopia who are paid 87% higher than local rates plus holiday and pension benefits.

USEFUL LINKS – information on the UN Sustainable Development Goals - information and news on SDG campaigns, how to get involved and links to social media pages.


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