On 14 December, 2015, H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark and I shall launch the 2015 Human Development Report entitled Work for Human Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Following this launch, there will be a number of events around the world, presenting the main messages and findings of the Report.
The timing is opportune - last month, the Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending extreme poverty, hunger, achieving gender equality, educating all children and improving global health etc. before 2030. And next month, the Valetta Summit on Migration will take place, to be followed by the vital climate change negotiations in Paris, which should chart a course to a more sustainable future for humanity.
All these set a critical context for human development and this year’s Human Development Report. The Report focuses on the concept of work, which is intrinsic to human development. From a human development perspective, the notion of work is broader and deeper than that of jobs or employment alone. The jobs framework fails to capture many kinds of work that have important human development implications—as with care work, voluntary work and such creative work as writing or painting.
The links between work and human development are synergistic. Work enhances human development by providing incomes and livelihoods, by reducing poverty, and by strengthening equitable growth. It also allows people to participate fully in society while affording them a sense of dignity and worth. And work that involves caring for others builds social cohesion and strengthens bonds within families and communities. Human beings working together not only increase material well-being, they also accumulate a wide body of knowledge that is the basis for cultures and civilizations. And when all this work is environmentally friendly, the benefits extend across generations. Ultimately, work can unleash human potential, human creativity and the human spirit.
But there is no automatic link between work and human development and some work, such as forced labour, can damage human development by violating human rights, shattering human dignity, and sacrificing freedom and autonomy. And without proper policies, work’s unequal opportunities and rewards can be divisive, perpetuating inequities in society.
The fast changing world of work, driven by globalization of work and the digital revolution, presents opportunities, but at the same time poses risks. The benefits of this evolving new world of work are not equally distributed and there are winners and losers.
Addressing imbalances in paid and unpaid work will be a challenge, particularly for women, who are disadvantaged on both fronts. Creating work opportunities for both present and future generations would require moving towards sustainable work.
Work can enhance human development when policies expand productive, remunerative, satisfying and quality work opportunities—enhance workers’ skills and potential—ensure their rights, safety, and well-being—and specific strategies are targeted to particular issues and groups of people.
The winner of the 2014 Mahbub ul Haq Award, Gro Harlem Brundtland once noted: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The Human Development Report has sought to reinforce that concept for a quarter of a century and the 2015 Human Development Report is faithful to that approach.
Selim Jahan is Director of the Human Development Report Office
Image: DFID UK via creative commons.