Decent work, human rights and the sustainable development goals.

Author:MacNaughton, Gillian
Position:P. 633-663

    1. The Original MDGs and Targets

      Since the turn of the Millennium, the elimination of global poverty has been a top priority of the international community. In 2000, the leaders from 189 nations committed, in the U.N. Millennium Declaration, to work together for global peace, poverty eradication, and human rights. (146) These Millennium commitments renewed those made in the 1945 U.N. Charter, in which U.N. member states pledged to take joint and separate action with the U.N. to promote higher standards of living, full employment and "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights." (147) The Millennium Declaration also reaffirmed the commitments that states had made at several world summits during the 1990s. The Charter and Declaration both reflect the understanding of the U.N. member states that poverty eradication and the realization of human rights are necessary to achieve a just and peaceful world. (148) Toward these ends, the MDGs and targets drawn from the Declaration aimed to unify donors, governments, international organizations, and civil society to focus their expertise, efforts, and funds on achieving specific targets of human development. (149)

      The original MDG framework promulgated in 2001 included eight goals, eighteen targets and forty-eight indicators. (150) As shown in Table 3, the goals recognized the importance of food, education, gender equality, health, and environmental sustainability to poverty reduction. Remarkably, despite the close connection of work to poverty eradication, the original MDG framework did not include a goal on decent work for all as part of the 2000-2015 international development agenda. Two work issues were, however, included in the framework of targets and indicators. First, one of the indicators for Goal 3--Promote gender equality and empower women--was "[s]hare of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector." (151) Second, one of the targets for Goal 8--Develop a global partnership--was "[i]n cooperation with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth." (152) This target had the corresponding indicator "[unemployment rate of young people aged 15-24 years, each sex and total." (153)

      The absence of a goal or target on "decent work for all" in the 2001 MDG framework--as the international agenda to eradicate poverty--was curious. (154) David Hulme, Professor of Development Studies at the University of Manchester, suggests that this absence was in part due to the poor strategies of the ILO and transnational labor organizations in the late 1990s. (155) He notes that even the goal of "decent work for youth" slipped from the main list of priorities in paragraph 19 of the Millennium Declaration to the auxiliary list in paragraph 20, and therefore became a target, rather than a goal, in the final MDG framework. (156) Rogers et al., in their book The ILO and the Quest for Social Justice, indicate that during the late 1990s, the ILO was focused on the follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development, the Social Summit +5, which was also planned for 2000. (157) As a result, the Social Summit +5 endorsed the ILO Decent Work Agenda, while the Millennium Summit overlooked this key element of a strategic plan for global poverty reduction. (158) Indeed, David Hulme and Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs at the New School, explain that during the 1990s, top management of the ILO dismissed the MDGs as "a passing fad" and advised staff not to get involved with them. (159)

    2. New 2007 Targets and Indicators

      The ILO changed its position in the early 2000s and began a campaign for a ninth MDG on decent work for all. The ILO already had a role in MDG monitoring as it was assigned to measure and report on (1) the target and indicator for decent work for youth, and (2) the indicator on women's share of non-agricultural employment. (160) Its efforts to expand its role began with the ILO Director-General's 2003 report Working Out of Poverty. (161) The report argued that reduction in poverty would be chiefly possible through the development of decent work, and the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda would be "the heart of successful policies to reduce poverty." (162) In this regard, the ILO had critical expertise and experience. (163) The Director-General further maintained that decent work was a missing link in global efforts at poverty reduction and that the ILO was prepared to be a full partner on the larger poverty reduction agenda." (164)

      As a follow up to the 2003 Working Out of Poverty report, the ILO established an independent World Commission on the Social Dimensions of Globalization (Commission). (165) The 2004 report of the Commission, A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All, concluded that the goals of full employment and decent work should be the cornerstone of fairer globalization and yet had received low recognition in international policies. (166) The report urged the international community to place a higher priority on implementing and supporting the goal of decent work. (167) Later that year, the UNGA adopted a resolution recognizing the Commission's report and calling for the consideration of decent work at the World Summit in 2005. (168) As a result of this resolution, full employment and decent work were placed on the agenda for the 2005 World Summit MDGs review. (169)

      In preparation for the 2005 World Summit, the ILO prepared a report, Decent Work and Poverty Reduction Strategies: A Reference Manual for ILO Staff and Constituents. (170) The manual did three things: (1) it reaffirmed the connection between poverty and work; (171) (2) it explained the link between decent work, MDGs, and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs); (172) and (3) it maintained that the ILO's role was not limited to reporting on youth and women's employment indicators, as had been designated within the MDG framework. Instead, the report argued that the ILO's role should be seen as central to MDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty because decent work is "the main route out of poverty." (173) In addition, the ILO Director-General encouraged ILO constituents to actively advocate for the inclusion of full employment and decent work into the MDG framework. (174) The ILO's labor constituents, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and a global coalition of trade unions, urged the inclusion of decent work as a ninth MDG that would include targets and indicators for each of the pillars. (175)

      Efforts of the ILO and its constituents led to some success at the 2005 World Summit. World leaders adopted a resolution committing to include full and productive employment and decent work as a central objective of poverty reduction strategies in order to achieve the existing MDGs. (176) Although a ninth MDG on decent work was not adopted at the Summit, the resolution declared that four new targets would be added to the MDG framework, including a target on full employment and decent work. (177) Table 4 sets out the original 2001 targets and the new 2007 targets for Goal 1 of the MDGs. The new Target 1B aims to: "[a]chieve full and productive employment for all, including women and young people." (178)

      The achievement of a decent work target in the MDG framework was a major milestone and provided an important opportunity to focus attention on full employment and decent work as a key means of poverty reduction. (179) The serious omission of decent work from the 2001 MDG framework was ostensibly addressed. On the other hand, there were several problems with the new framework. First, unfortunately, the old target on youth employment under Goal 8--"[i]n cooperation with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth"--was removed when the new target was added. Second, the new decent work target was not time-bound. There was no final date set for achieving decent work for all, unlike most of the other targets, which generally set 2015 as the target date. Third, the Millennium Project, an independent advisory body commissioned by the U.N. in 2002 to recommend a concrete action plan for achieving the MDGs, presented its final report in January 2005 and concluded its work by the end of 2006. (180) As this body was responsible for creating the practical plan of action for meeting the MDGs by the 2015 deadline, the addition of the decent work target in 2007 came far too late for decent work to be an important feature of the international agenda to reduce poverty. Fourth, the decent work target was divorced from international human rights treaties as well as ILO conventions.

      The U.N. Secretary-General submitted the four new targets adopted in the 2005 Summit Outcome, including the new target on full employment and decent work, to the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Millennium Development Goal Indicators to choose corresponding indicators. (181) The Inter-Agency and Expert Group selected four indicators to measure progress toward the new full employment and decent work target as set out in Table 5. (182) The logical approach might have been to select one indicator for each of the ILO Decent Work Agenda pillars; however, this was not the approach taken. Nor did the indicators draw upon the ICESCR for a concept of decent work that would include freedom to choose employment (Article 6), just and favorable conditions of work (Article 7), union rights (Article 8), social protection (Article 9) and an adequate standard of living (Article 11). Instead, the indicators focused narrowly on the income components of decent work. (183) Not surprisingly, the indicators received considerable criticism, even from the ILO. (184)

      In order to focus national and international attention, energy, and resources, key criteria for selecting indicators are that (1) they directly measure progress toward the target, and (2) they are easily...

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