8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

How business leadership can advance Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth

Sustainable and equitable economic growth, coupled with low unemployment and decent work, is at the top of the agenda for most, if not all, countries. However, growth has not reached full potential in many economies in the developed and developing world. At the same time, exploitation and labour rights violations are still endemic around the world. An estimated 168 million children are victims of child labour. There are major forces that are changing labour market dynamics such as automation, globalisation, and demographic changes. The impact of these forces must be reconciled with the need to create 600 million new jobs by 2030, mostly in developing countries, to sustain economic growth and maintain social stability.

Businesses play a central role in advancing Goal 8, as they account for the majority of GDP in most countries as well as the majority of jobs. The foundation of supporting decent work is implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, through which companies can address their own impacts on employees and workers in their value chains. Decent work as defined by the International labour Organization (ILO) is work that is productive and delivers a fair income; security in the workplace; social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

Business should recognize that much of its impact on Goal 8 is through its business relations, including through the businesses in its supply chains with which it can advance respect for fundamental human and labour rights. The ILO estimates that in 40 countries representing 85 percent of world GDP, there are 453 million formal sector jobs related to global supply chains. This does not include supply chain workers in informal work such as work at home; or non- standard work, ranging from temporary employment to forced labour. For example, significant proportions of labour in various industries, including electronics and textiles and garments, are on temporary contracts. All businesses should have responsible tax practices to provide Governments with adequate resources for their efforts to ensure decent work at the national level.

Business can lead on Goal 8 by investing in innovation, labour and capital to achieve strong, sustainable and equitable economic growth that provides decent jobs. Four key areas lend themselves particularly well for business leadership. Businesses can lead by putting in place policies and practices to support decent working conditions for all employees across the business and supply chain. They can partner with suppliers to build their capacity for doing so, and support other stakeholders in their efforts, too. Business can also lead by educating and training the labour force, including workers across end-to-end operations and in surrounding communities, and focusing particularly on vulnerable groups including women, young people and persons with disabilities, so that they acquire the skills needed to provide productive labour or transition from informal to formal sector work, and remain employable in a changing labour market. Business leadership can also involve creating formal-sector jobs in labour-intensive sectors, especially in least-developed countries, including through inclusive sourcing practices. Businesses can further be leaders through making a large contribution to sustainable economic growth and productivity, which can take the form of investing in R&D, upgrading skills, and supporting growing businesses. Where businesses take action to support decent work, they should build an understanding of how they can complement existing initiatives by Governments and other stakeholders, and ensure that they do not interfere with or otherwise negatively impact other initiatives.

Businesses benefit from higher growth as it results in stronger returns, generates demand, and helps boost profitability. Similarly, businesses have much to gain from providing decent work, as it creates the conditions for healthy, satisfied employees who are more productive, innovative, and loyal. A business that is committed to supporting good working conditions also attracts talent, increases retention, and fares better in competitive markets.

Action on Goal 8 is strongly connected to all the other Goals. For example, decent work contributes to poverty reduction (Goal 1). Evidence has shown that job-creation is one of the most robust ways to reduce poverty. Action on Goal 8 also reduces inequalities (Goals 5 and 10) by supporting decent work and reducing unemployment, which can in turn can lead to better health, nutritional and educational outcomes (Goals 3, 4 and 2). Ensuring that there is all-round prosperity and continual growth helps create the foundations for a more peaceful society (Goal 16). However, economic growth, if not sustainably managed, can potentially have a negative impact on Goals with a strong environmental dimension. It can lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (Goal 13) and can pollute terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems (Goals 14 and 15), which can threaten future prosperity because subsequent generations will inherit a planet that is more polluted and less rich in critical natural resources.

Do your actions satisfy the Leadership Qualities?

Guiding Questions to apply to the Leadership Qualities to your business






  • Is your company committed to supporting the achievement of Goal 8? Have you developed a holistic strategy that reflects this commitment, covering end-to-end operation and the wider community?
  • Are you committed to learn from your actions and do you have processes in place to improve them accordingly?
  • Is your strategy supported by the highest levels of management, including the Board of Directors?

Key Considerations

Strong leadership on Goal 8, with a commitment in corporate strategy and by top-level management, is necessary to ensure that the required ethical standards are integrated in all levels of the organization and action on Goal 8 becomes part of all activities

  • Do your actions achieve long-term outcomes that greatly exceed those resulting from current industry practice?
  • Are your actions aligned with what is needed to achieve Goal 8?

Key Considerations

Providing decent work and supporting economic growth are fundamental to most businesses’ activities. Ambitious action goes significantly beyond that of peers, explicitly aiming to further the 2030 Agenda and engaging in new ways that can lead to change at scale

  • Is support for Goal 8 embedded across all organizational functions?
  • Are staff and board incentives aligned with achieving Goal 8?

Key Considerations

Consistency requires businesses ensure that support for the 2030 Agenda is embedded across all organizational functions so that there are no countervailing or impeding activities in any parts of the business

  • Do you proactively look for opportunities to partner with Governments, UN agencies, suppliers, civil society organizations, industry peers and other stakeholders to inform how to advance Goal 8?

Key Considerations

Collaboration on Goal 8 means companies will partner with and engage Governments, civil society, industry peers, schools, universities, unions, and other stakeholders to understand how working conditions can be improved, how skills-development programs can best be implemented, and how growth and job creation can be compatible with local sustainable development outcomes

  • Do you publicly express your commitment to advance Goal 8?
  • Do you identify, monitor, and report on impacts, including potentially adverse impacts?
  • Do you mitigate risks associated with your action?
  • Do you remediate negative impacts associated with this action?
  • Do you engage stakeholders in a meaningful way?

Key Considerations

Accountability includes monitoring and reporting on business impacts on people and planet, in particular with an eye to ensuring that actions do not contribute to existing inequalities and environmental problems. This involves managing risks, and meaningfully engaging Governments, unions, and local communities

Business Actions


Support decent working conditions


Educate and train your labour force


Create decent formal-sector jobs


Drive economic growth sustainably

How taking action on Goal 8 is interconnected with other Goals

The Global Goals are inherently interconnected. Action taken toward one Goal can support or hinder the achievement of others. Identifying and addressing these interconnections will help business to build holistic and systemic solutions that amplify progress and minimize negative impacts. To help build a greater understanding, we have illustrated some of the ways in which the Goals connect. These are not exhaustive, and we encourage business to consider how they apply in their own operations.

Maximise likelihood of positive impact on:

Economic growth coupled with the creation of decent work contributes to all Global Goals. In particular, it contributes to poverty reduction (Goal 1) and reducing inequalities (Goals 5 and 10) by promoting decent work and reducing unemployment. This in turn leads to better health, nutritional, and educational outcomes (Goals 3, 4 and 2). Finally, ensuring all-round prosperity and continual growth helps create the foundations for a more peaceful society (Goal 16).

Minimise risk of negative impact on:

Economic growth, if it is not sustainable, can potentially have a negative impact on Goals with a strong environmental dimension. It can lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (Goal 13) and can pollute terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems (Goals 14 and 15), which can threaten future prosperity because subsequent generations will inherit a planet that is more polluted and less rich in critical natural resources. It might also lead to reinforcing inequalities (Goal 10), which is strongly related to gender equality, poverty, hunger, health, and education outcomes.

Goal 8 Targets

Targets of Goal 8

  1. Sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 percent gross domestic product growth per annum in the least developed countries
  2. Achieve higher levels of economic productivity
  3. Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
  4. Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation
  5. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value
  6. Reduce youth unemployment
  7. Eradicate forced labour, modern slavery, child labour and human trafficking
  8. Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers
  9. Devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
  10. Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all