Promoting Inclusive Economic Growth Through Decent Work

Authored by Solidarity Center

Promoting inclusive growth is a critical underpinning of US stability and security in an interconnected global economy, as well as a moral imperative of development policy. The 2015 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) states: “Sustained inclusive economic growth...promotes political and economic stability and expands the middle class worldwide. Inclusive growth does not simply add to a nation’s GDP; it decreases youth unemployment and wealth inequality, promotes gender equality, increases access to electricity, provides pathways out of poverty, and increases government accountability.”1 The National Security Strategy similarly recognizes that promoting inclusive growth globally is key to American’s economic future: “…the American consumer cannot sustain global demand—growth must be more balanced. To meet this challenge, we must... promote inclusive development.”2

Inclusive growth is achievable through a concerted effort on creating decent work globally, especially for historically disenfranchised people.  Decent work delivers workers a fair income, social protection, rights and a voice at work, equal opportunity and treatment, and the prospect of personal development and social integration. The Sustainable Development Goals explicitly recognize the primacy of decent work to democratic stability and to making poverty reduction sustainable, stating: “A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress….Poverty eradication is only possible through stable and well-paid jobs.” To achieve inclusive growth, the US must make the creation of decent work both a primary objective and a key approach of development programs and policy.

Decent work is a pathway to gender equality. Only about half of women worldwide are in the labor force (compared to 75% of men), representing a 2% decline in women’s labor market participation since 1995.3 Women are more concentrated in informal and unprotected work and at the bottom levels of global supply chains, where access to social protection, freedom of association, and protection from discrimination and gender-based violence at work is lacking. Globally, the gender wage gap is 77 percent. Increasing women’s participation and earnings through decent work is the best way to close wage and participation gaps for the majority of women worldwide, increase women’s economic empowerment, and provide girls with a brighter future. Closing the wage and participation gaps could increase women’s income globally by up to 76%.4

Decent work strengthens democracy and protects civil society space. Freedom of association, a tenet of decent work, provides working people with the means to call on their governments to uphold laws, protect human rights, and be a force for democracy, shared prosperity and inclusive economic development. Trade unions and other democratic worker organizations are self- sustaining and cut across gender, ethnic and religious lines, helping to counter economic and social exclusion in the poorest countries by providing space for disenfranchised workers, including women, minorities and migrant workers to advocate on their own behalf. Often the largest membership-based civil society organizations in their country, they are a training ground for citizens to exercise democratic representation and open space for other civil society organizations to operate and thrive. According to the UN, “[Worker rights] are key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.”5

Upcoming Opportunities

Promote Sustainable Development Goal 8 as a priority, and as a means to progress on other SDGs: The US should prioritize implementation SDG 8, Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, through an inter-agency process that facilitates coordination between the Department of Labor and other federal agencies to provide coherent and continued attention to gender-inclusive employment and worker rights issues in foreign policy and development programs.  Successful implementation of SDG 8 directly contributes to progress on other SDGs, including SDG1 (ending poverty), SDG5 (achieving gender equality), and SDG 10 (reducing inequality).

Redefine Trade Capacity Building Programs to Build Capacity for Labor Rights: Recent trade capacity building programs have failed to build an enabling environment for poverty reduction, labor rights enforcement, and worker empowerment in countries that trade with the US, leading to the growth of exploitative, dangerous, and low-wage jobs overseas that put American workers on an unequal playing field.  The US should refocus trade capacity building on programs that contribute to an enabling environment for decent work, including by strengthening functional labor market institutions like labor inspectorates, minimum wages setting mechanisms, and collective bargaining that enable workers to share in potential economic gains from trade.

Prioritize decent work in programs that support the Alliance for Prosperity: The lack of social mobility and economic opportunity is a key “push” factor motivating young Central Americans migrating to the US, along with violence and insecurity.  In programs to support the Alliance for Prosperity, the US should prioritize approaches that pave the way for decent work and sustainable economic development, such as apprenticeship and workforce development programs for young workers that lead to stable, formal employment opportunities in growing economic sectors.

Promote decent work in AGOA implementation: The African Growth and Opportunity Act’s renewal in 2015 for an additional 10 years presents an opportunity to assess how the agreement can better contribute to improved job creation and economic outcomes for African people. In ongoing AGOA forums and dialogue processes with African governments, the US should promote strategies that encourage decent work creation, adherence to labor standards, and the development of sustainable, ethical sourcing locations that will be attractive to investors when AGOA expires.



Download Member Insight

Download FABB 2016

Foreign Assistance Briefing Book:   2016  |  2013  |  2011  |  2008