How to Make a Strong Global Economy While Protecting Workers' Rights

The Sustainable Development Goals have specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Today, we take a look at Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

by Katelyn Harrop
Sep 21 2017, 4:15pm

Photo via Flickr User Solidarity Center (2015)

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals are 17 encompassing objectives meant to address the world's most pressing health, educational, social and economic issues by 2030. This month, the UN General Assembly, as well as many of the governing bodies behind the UN's SDGs, will be convening and we'll be breaking down a goal a day.

SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

International labor productivity, or the annual growth rate of GDP per individual worker based on the number of hours worked, has dropped. This means that people's financial security is growing at a slower rate than it was in the early 2000s, despite a similar level of work, and that's a problem. For many people around the world, having a job doesn't guarantee a way out of poverty, and access to opportunities for gainful, income stabilizing employment remains unequal. It's going to take a serious restructuring of labor, economic, and discrimination policies and significant developments in training and education accessibility in order to make both inclusive and sustainable economic growth and employment a reality for all by 2030.

The Effect

Unemployment and economic instability is a problem for everyone, even if you have a job and steady income. A lack of gainful and inclusive employment is closely linked to poverty, which can increase political stress, environmental degradation, and discourage efforts to fight major social concerns like hunger and issues related to public health. While the U.S. was ranked fifth in the world for labor productivity (not too shabby), unemployment rates are almost twice as high for African-American people than white people nationwide, and more than double for people living with a disability. This means that important members of our global and national community are getting left out of economic growth. And that's a problem.

The "You" Factor

Everyone deserves to feel safe and valued in their work while achieving an equitable living wage. Luckily, grassroots groups and global organizations are fighting for these rights across the globe.


Social Accountability International is fighting for a worldwide increase in worker treatment standards, with a special focus on the globalized supply chain economy. Their SA8000 certification is awarded to companies that maintain strong social and labor-based standards on topics including collective bargaining, fair work hours, and discrimination-free workplaces. Other organizations like the Maquila Solidarity Network take a grassroots approach to decent work and economic justice by organizing for labor rights in the women-dominated supply chain clothing industry in Central America and Mexico. MSN fights for living wages, gender equality, child care rights, workplace safety and other socioeconomic and labor-related concerns with a worker-first approach. They also partner with other workers organizations to fight in solidarity for women's labor rights in countries including Bangladesh and Cambodia.

At Home

Hardworking, rights-focused "workers centers" are a great starting point for community building and organizing around issues of labor and economic justice. Interfaith Worker Justice has developed a strong network of independent workers centers across the country, and it has an interactive map that can help you find a workers center near you. Jobs With Justice and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice also fight for collective bargaining rights, equal employment opportunity, and other major economic justice and labor rights through grassroots organizing, policy building, and legal channels with a focus on supporting low-income families and workers.

And Fight for $15 takes the living wage movement to streets and workplaces across the country, organizing strikes and protests in pursuit of a nationwide, $15.00 minimum wage and increased union rights. "The more of us who continue to speak out, take to the streets, and go on strike, the louder our message will be that it is not right for companies making billions in profits to pay their workers pennies," Fight for $15 says. "Organize your workplace and take the fight to the streets."

To learn more about the SDGs, head to the Goalkeepers site created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which highlights an event in New York City on September 19 and 20 that convenes activists, world leaders, and the public to share their successes and challenges in advancing the SDG agenda. And September 25 is a global day of action on the SDGs -- find an event or opportunity near you.