Decent work, human rights and the sustainable development goals.

Author:MacNaughton, Gillian
Position:P. 607-633
  1. Introduction II. Concepts of Decent Work A. The ILO Social Justice Approach to Decent Work B. The Human Right to Decent Work C. Linking Full Employment and Decent Work to Poverty Elimination III. The MDGs A. The Original MDGs and Targets B. New 2007 Targets and Indicators IV. The SDGs A. Global Consultation on the SDGs B. Global Consultation on Decent Work C. The Adoption of SDGs and Targets D. Proposed Indicators for the SDGs V. A Human Rights-Based Goal, Targets, and Indicators for Decent Work VI. Conclusion I. INTRODUCTION (1)

    In September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide international development policy and practice for a fifteen-year period from 2016 to 2030. (2) The SDGs are critically important as most international development efforts over those fifteen years--including those of donors, major development institutions, national governments and civil society--will likely be directed toward achieving these goals. (3) The seventeen goals address poverty eradication, food security, education, gender equality, health, work, and other areas of human development, as well as economic growth, natural resource governance, and environmental protections. (4) Each SDG is implemented via specific targets as well as indicators to measure progress toward each target. At the September 2015 U.N. Summit, the UNGA agreed upon the seventeen goals aligned to 169 targets. A group of experts from U.N. organizations, academia, civil society, business and national statistical offices is currently working on developing the indicators that will complete the framework. (5)

    The SDGs follow on the heels of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have guided international development from 2000 to 2015. Like the SDG framework, the MDG framework was composed of a nested hierarchy of goals, targets, and indicators. The deadline for achieving many of the MDG targets is 2015. Therefore, the UNGA adopted the new SDG framework in 2015, and it will go into effect in 2016. An extensive global public consultation had been underway for three years leading up to the UNGA meeting in September 2015. (6) Much of the SDG discussion built upon the lessons learned from the MDG experience, addressing both the successes and the criticisms raised concerning the MDG framework.

    The MDGs have been successful for many reasons. (7) First, the MDGs were derived from the Millennium Declaration, which was approved by leaders of 189 nations at the Millennium Summit, providing unprecedented international political legitimacy. (8) Second, the MDGs focused international development energy, expertise, and funding on a limited number of targets. (9) Third, the MDG framework combined time-bound targets with indicators to measure progress toward the targets, thereby providing a basis for accountability. (10) Fourth, various international institutions were established to support, monitor, and report on progress toward the MDGs. (11) As a result of the confluence of these factors, the concept of a unified global development framework has garnered tremendous support in all sectors. Accordingly, a similar framework, the SDGs, has been adopted for the next fifteen years.

    Nonetheless, the MDGs have been sharply criticized as well. Unlike the Millennium Declaration, which enshrined the commitments of the U.N. member states to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments, the MDG framework did not incorporate or align with human rights. (12) Criticisms of the MDG framework as a whole include the failure to abide by core human rights principles; (13) for example: (1) the selection of goals was made by the global north and imposed on the global south (lack of participation by those intended to benefit from the policy); (14) (2) the goals failed to address inequality and marginalized groups (no focus on equality and nondiscrimination); (15) (3) some indicators failed to measure progress toward their targets (lack of transparency); (16) and (4) the goals failed to address poverty in high- and middle-income countries (lack of universality). (17) 18 19 Additionally, many of the targets ignored specific international human rights obligations. For example, target 2 under MDG 1 was to "[h]alve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger." (18) This target conflicts with the immediate obligation of states under international human rights law to ensure the core obligation for the right to food. (19)

    Another major criticism of the MDG framework was that it failed to take into account decent work as a key feature of poverty eradication and human development. (20) The International Labour Organization (ILO), the U.N. specialized agency that focuses on work and poverty, has recognized for almost 100 years that "the best way to avoid a life of poverty is to find decent work." (21) Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that everyone has the human right to decent work, which is work that respects the full array of human rights. (22) Although a new decent work target was added to the MDG framework in 2007, unlike other MDG targets that were to be achieved by 2015, there was no deadline for achieving the target of decent work for all. The 2007 decent work target was, in effect, simply too little and too late. In contrast to the MDGs, the SDGs promulgated for the post-2015 international agenda look promising.

    In July 2014, the U.N. Open Working Group (OWG) on the SDGs presented a framework of seventeen goals and 169 targets for the post-2015 international development agenda, and this framework was adopted by the UNGA in September 2014 as the basis for the post-2015 agenda, which was finalized at the U.N. Summit in September 2015. (23)

    Goal 8 calls for "full and productive employment and decent work for all." (24) Moreover, the key target to measure progress toward achieving this goal sets a deadline of 2030. (25) Targets under this goal also require achievement of decent work for women, men, young people, and people with disabilities, and an array of other work rights, including the elimination of the worst forms of child labor and the promotion of safe and secure work environments. (26) The new decent work goal and targets adopted in September 2015 mean that "decent work for all" is finally a central feature of the global plan to eliminate poverty. Questions remain, however, concerning (1) the impact of linking decent work with economic growth in the framework, and (2) the suitability of the indicators that will be developed by technicians and statisticians.

    This Article uses a human rights lens to reflect back over the successes and the shortcomings of the MDG framework generally, and the decent work targets and indicators in particular. Against this background, it considers the decent work goal, targets, and indicators for the post-2015 framework. Following this introduction, part II introduces the concept of decent work as...

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