5 steps to reverse sluggish progress on SDG 8

A newly released report by IOE, USCIB and Deloitte confirms that global efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goal 8 targets are lagging. IOE President Erol Kiresepi offers his views on how to scale up corporate action.

By: Erol Kiresepi, IOE President

The International Organisation of Employers, the United States Council for International Business and Deloitte deliver a somber assessment on global progress towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG) in a joint report entitled, Reaching SDG 8: Challenges, Opportunities, Actions (full press release here).

SDG 8 calls for promoting "sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all'. According to some experts, the success of the entire SDG agenda depends to a large extent on achieving SDG 8.

Based on extensive statistical research, the report focuses on 36 countries, including the G20 countries and a selection of developing and least developed outside of the G20.

It sums up the current situation this way: "Unless all countries rethink and re-strategize their economic and social policies soon and commit to achieving these goals by incorporating them in their regional policies, the path from the vision to reality within the timeline seems increasingly difficult."

What is going wrong?

In terms of human development over the last five years, considerable positive progress has been made as documented by the World Bank and others.  

Despite the gains, and the fact that per capita income levels have narrowed between high-and lower-income countries over the past decade and labor productivity has marginally improved in the latter, very little success has been achieved on most of the SDG 8 targets. Among the areas where we have made little headway: increasing employment opportunities, especially for the young workforce; reducing informal employment, labor market inequality, and gender discrimination; improving resource efficiency in consumption; promoting safe and secure working environments; and improving access to financial services.

These developments are necessary for sustained and inclusive economic growth.

So why is progress so sluggish? Our report is clear that the primary reason for the slow and unequal pace of advancement in achieving SDG 8 across countries is the inability of policymakers to integrate this shared agenda and vision into national development plans and strategies. In other words, governments and businesses are struggling to translate the aspirations of the SDGs into realistic and concrete plans of action.

Step up or fail

The global community has just over a decade to ratchet up action or run the risk of failing to achieve this ambitious development agenda with devastating consequences.

This scaling up must include increased engagement by the private sector on SDGs. The private sector employs 9 out of 10 people globally and provides the goods and services that form the global economy. The future of business depends on greater commitment from companies as sustainable development fosters sustainable enterprises.

How do we move forward? To bridge the gap between the aspirational and actions on the ground, employer and business member organisations can play a pivotal role. Employer organisations worldwide have long and deep experience in translating development agendas into corporate strategies and frameworks.

Based upon the surveys done for the report, there are five main actions that business federations already offer and can expand to support their member communities in integrating these global goals into local strategies:  

  1. Drive change by raising awareness: Run innovative digital campaigns on SDG 8 that engage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs make up the largest segment of the business sector. These campaigns aspire to highlight the transformational impact of putting SDG 8 at the heart of corporate and economic growth strategies. They also offer concrete opportunities for both governments and business to share experiences both good and bad as well as toolkits on how even the smallest of projects can bring about big change.
  2. Organise town halls: Bring together the corporate community with public institutions at local, national and UN level in a town hall setting. There is no better way to increase understanding than by direct dialogue.
  3. Lobby government: Reach out to legislators working on national SDG 8 strategies and work with them to ensure they include conducive business environments as part of the goal.
  4. Train, train and train: Provide workshops on the basics of SDGs and how to apply them to your business.
  5. Get focused: It is easy to get overwhelmed by the number and scope of SDGs especially for SMEs that need to get through the next business cycle. To alleviate businesses already pushed to the limit, employer federations can help them prioritise and focus on the SDGs most relevant to their business, rather than trying to address them all - which can be overwhelming to say the least.

If there are any lingering doubts about the urgency of the need to scale up our action, just try to imagine what the world may be like if we do nothing.

If genuine progress is to be made on SDG 8 targets, the UN and employers and business federations must do more together to help businesses understand and apply SDGs.

Employer organisations can be the key to unlocking the private sector’s resources to support, and even lead on, achieving the goals.