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Decent Work and Economic Growth: Boosting Prosperity Through Action

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19 min read

Decent work refers to opportunities for work that are productive and deliver a fair income, security in the workplace, and social protection for workers and their families. Economic growth, on the other hand, refers to an increase in a country's gross domestic product (GDP) over time.

According to the UN, "Roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about US$2 a day. And in too many places, having a job doesn’t guarantee the ability to escape from poverty. This slow and uneven progress requires us to rethink and retool our economic and social policies aimed at eradicating poverty."

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth is one of the 17 SDGs adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goal is to promote inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. This includes creating new and better job opportunities, improving working conditions, and promoting social protection for all. The goal also aims to reduce poverty and income inequality, and to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Development-oriented policies are designed to promote economic growth and development in a sustainable and inclusive manner. These policies can help to create decent job opportunities and increase global resource efficiency. By implementing development-oriented policies, governments, businesses, and other organizations can help to reduce unemployment rates and increase the growth rate of their economies. By addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality, and by promoting the well-being and prosperity of individuals, communities and countries can contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promote sustainable development around the world.

Want to see how your sustainability efforts measure up? Check out our article How Do You Measure Up to the UN's New Goal for Wellness by 2030?

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The Importance of Sustainable Development

Sustainable development refers to the use of resources in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is based on the idea that economic growth, social development, and environmental protection are interconnected and must be balanced in order to achieve long-term sustainability.

Sustainable development is important because it helps to ensure that the planet and its resources will be available to future generations. It also helps to reduce poverty and improve living standards, and promotes more inclusive and equitable societies. Additionally, sustainable development can contribute to economic growth by promoting innovation and efficiency, and by creating new business opportunities.

There are a number of challenges to achieving sustainable development, including climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion. Addressing these challenges will require efforts from governments, businesses, civil society, and individuals, and will require the implementation of policies and practices that are sustainable in the long-term.

Targets of Sustainable Development Goal 8

The targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth are:

  • To 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.
  • To substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education, or training.
  • To implement policies to promote the growth of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises through access to financial services.
  • To significantly increase the exports of developing countries.
  • To enhance capacity-building support to developing countries, including the least developed countries and small island developing states.
  • To take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025, end child labour in all its forms.
  • To protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.
  • To strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance, and financial services for all.

Strategies for Promoting Decent Work and Economic Growth

To promote decent work and economic growth, there are a number of strategies that can be employed. By implementing these strategies, we can create more inclusive and prosperous societies.

1. Invest in education and training

The world is short on jobs and social inequality is growing. Investing in education and training is an important strategy for promoting decent work and economic growth, as it can help to create more productive and efficient workers, increase employment opportunities, and improve living standards. It is an investment in the future, as it helps to ensure that future generations have the skills and knowledge they need to access better employment opportunities.

Investing in education and training is a key strategy for promoting decent work and economic growth. Some benefits of this strategy include:

  • By investing in education and training, individuals can gain the skills and qualifications they need to find quality jobs. This can be particularly beneficial for unemployed people, who can use education and training to improve their employability and increase their chances of finding work.
  • The labour force is expected to increase by 8.9 million by 2030. To adapt to the needs of the growing labour force, investments in education and training will be critical to create employment opportunities. This is particularly important in less-developed countries, where there may be a large number of young people entering the workforce but a shortage of decent work opportunities.
  • Educated and trained workers are often more productive and efficient than those who are not. By investing in education and training, businesses and organizations can improve their productivity and competitiveness.

Ways to invest in education and training include:

  • Providing access to education and training programs: This can include funding for schools, universities, and vocational training programs. It can also involve providing financial assistance to students to help them afford education and training. Check out 10 things you can do to promote quality education worldwide.
  • Investing in teacher training and development: By investing in teacher training and development, countries can improve the quality of education and training and ensure that educators are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to teach effectively.

2. Support small businesses

Small businesses are a key driver of economic growth, and supporting them helps with job creation and promotes inclusive economic growth.

However, small businesses often face challenges in accessing financing, markets, and other resources. Lack of funding is a primary reason for the failure of small businesses. This can contribute to the continued lack of decent work opportunities, particularly in less-developed countries. By supporting small businesses, governments, businesses, and other organizations can help to overcome these challenges and promote the growth of small-scale production and economic activities.

There are a number of ways to support small businesses, including:

  • Providing access to financing: Providing access to financing through financial institutions, such as microloans or other financial instruments, can help small businesses overcome this challenge and grow.
  • Promoting small businesses in the supply chain: Companies can support small businesses by including them in their supply chain and purchasing goods and services from them. This can help small businesses access new markets and tap into higher levels of economic productivity.
  • Providing training and support: Small businesses can benefit from training and support programs that help them improve their operations, increase their competitiveness, and adapt to changes in the labour market.

3. Promote fair wages and working conditions

Ensuring that workers are paid fairly and have safe and decent working conditions can help promote economic growth by increasing productivity and reducing turnover. Ensuring that workers are paid fairly and have safe and decent working conditions is an important aspect of protecting labour rights and promoting social justice.

There are a number of ways to promote fair wages and working conditions, including:

  • Ensuring that workers are paid a fair wage: This can be done by setting minimum wage levels and ensuring that workers are paid fairly for their skills and experience. Promoting fair wages and working conditions is particularly important in labour-intensive sectors, where wages and working conditions can have a significant impact on economic growth. For instance, domestic workers are three times as likely to be living in poverty as other workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. It is also important in less-developed countries, where already tepid economic growth can be further hindered by the lack of decent work opportunities. It is also important in less-developed countries, where already tepid economic growth can be further hindered by the lack of decent work opportunities and appropriate economic policies.
  • Providing safe and decent working conditions: Ensure that workplaces are safe and free from hazards, and that workers have access to necessary protective equipment and other resources.
  • Protecting the rights of workers: This can involve supporting the right to collective bargaining, and ensuring that workers have the right to form and join unions and other worker organizations.

4. Foster entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship can create new businesses and jobs, and can help drive innovation and economic growth by bringing new products, services, and technologies to the market.

In many developing countries, the informal economy is a significant source of employment and income for a large portion of the population. By providing education and training opportunities and promoting entrepreneurship, informal sector workers can be integrated into the formal economy.

There are a number of ways to encourage entrepreneurship, including:

  • Providing access to financing: Entrepreneurs often struggle to access financing, which can limit their ability to start and grow their businesses. Providing access to financing can help entrepreneurs overcome this challenge and grow their businesses.
  • Supporting business development programs: Business development programs can provide entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, and other resources to help them start and grow their businesses.
  • Creating a favorable business environment: Governments and other organizations can create a favorable business environment by simplifying business registration processes, reducing regulatory burden, and providing other forms of support.
  • Encouraging innovation: Encouraging innovation can help entrepreneurs create new products, services, and technologies that can drive economic growth. This can involve investing in research and development, or supporting the adoption of new technologies.

5. Promote gender equality

In many countries, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. Promoting gender equality in the workplace can help to reduce poverty by increasing women's access to decent work and income. According to International Labour Organization data, over 4 million women have not been able to return to work in Latin America and the Caribbean since the COVID-19 pandemic. Closing the gender gap in the workforce can increase productivity and stimulate economic growth. Globally, young women face higher rates of unemployment and lack of education or training compared to young men.

When women are able to participate in the workforce on an equal footing with men, it can lead to a diversification of the workforce and the creation of more decent jobs. It also increases the number of workers available in the labour market. This can help to stimulate the global economy and promote sustainable, long term economic growth. In fact, global GDP growth could increase 26 percent by closing the gaps between women and men in the workforce.

In addition, promoting gender equality in the workplace can also increase productivity. Studies have shown that when women are able to fully participate in the workforce, it can lead to more diverse and innovative thinking, as well as improved decision-making and problem-solving skills.

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6. Encourage trade

Encouraging international trade can help businesses to access new markets and increase their competitiveness.

There are a number of ways that governments can support and encourage trade, including:

  • Negotiating trade agreements: Governments can negotiate trade agreements with other countries to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade. This makes it easier for businesses to export their products to other markets.
  • Providing trade support: Governments can provide trade financing to businesses to help them access the capital they need to engage in international trade. This can include export credits, guarantees, and insurance to help businesses manage the risks associated with exporting.
  • Offering trade-related technical assistance: Governments can provide technical assistance to businesses to help them understand and comply with the rules and regulations of foreign markets. This can include help with product certification, labeling, and other requirements.
  • Promoting trade missions: Governments can sponsor trade missions and other events to help businesses meet potential customers and partners in foreign markets. This can help businesses to develop new business relationships and expand their market presence.

7. Foster innovation

Innovation can drive productivity, increase total employment levels, help businesses to access new markets, and lead to the development of new products and services. In addition, promoting innovation can help to drive productive activities and increase gross domestic product (GDP). Insufficient investments in R&D can limit a country's ability to develop new technologies and innovations, hindering economic growth. Governments can promote the adoption of new technologies by providing incentives for businesses to invest in innovative products and processes.

Measuring Innovation in a Country

There are a number of indicators that can be used to measure the extent to which a country is fostering innovation. These may include measures of R&D spending, the number of patents filed, and the number of new businesses being created. It is important to consider these indicators in accordance with the specific national circumstances of a country, as the most appropriate indicators may vary depending on the stage of economic development and the size and structure of the economy.

8. Invest in infrastructure

Investment in infrastructure is crucial for supporting economic growth, particularly in both rural and urban areas. Infrastructure includes the basic systems and facilities that enable economic activity, such as transportation networks, communication systems, energy production and distribution, and water and sanitation systems.

In rural areas, investment in infrastructure can be particularly important for improving connectivity and access to markets. For example, investment in transportation infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, can help businesses to more easily transport goods and access new markets. Promoting social protection in these regions can complement such infrastructural developments by providing a safety net for vulnerable individuals and families, ultimately contributing to poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.

In some cases, promoting innovation may require increased aid from the private sector or from governments. In low-income countries, for example, slower growth may be due to a lack of access to modern technologies and innovations.

In addition to traditional infrastructure, investment in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and digital infrastructure, can also support economic growth. These technologies can improve efficiency, reduce costs, and drive innovation in a range of sectors. Plus, investment in emerging technologies can support technological upgrading and drive innovation.

9. Promote sustainable development

Ensuring that economic growth is sustainable can help protect the environment and ensure that the benefits of growth are shared widely.  It involves taking into account the social, economic, and environmental impacts of development and working towards the global goals of reducing poverty, promoting equality, and protecting the environment. By promoting sustainable development, countries can achieve long-term, sustainable gross domestic product growth and a better quality of life for all members of society.

Sustainable Tourism

This involves promoting tourism in a way that is environmentally responsible and supports local communities. Sustainable tourism can help to reduce environmental degradation and contribute to the local economy, making it a win-win for both the environment and the local community.

Sustainable Consumption

This involves encouraging people to consume goods and services in a way that does not deplete natural resources. For example, promoting the use of environmentally friendly products and supporting local agriculture can help to reduce environmental degradation and support local economies.

Health and Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is also closely linked to health. Ensuring that people have access to clean water, food, and other necessities is essential for promoting sustainable development. Strong institutions and policies that support health and well-being can help to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared widely.

10. Support social protection

Social protection programs are government-funded initiatives that provide support to individuals and families who are vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. These programs can include unemployment insurance, pension systems, healthcare, and education.

Social Protection Programs and Economic Growth

By providing support to individuals who are out of work, social protection programs can help to reduce poverty and increase economic stability. This supports decent job creation and creates a more favorable environment for businesses to invest.

Reduce Income Inequality

Social protection programs can help to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared widely. By providing a safety net for individuals and families who are vulnerable to poverty, social protection programs can help to reduce income inequality and promote social cohesion. This can lead to a more stable and sustainable economy, as it reduces the risk of social unrest and erosion of the basic social contract.

Social Protection Programs and Sustainable Development

By providing support to vulnerable individuals and families, social protection programs can help to reduce environmental degradation and promote sustainable consumption. This can create a more favorable environment for businesses to invest and create high-value jobs, ultimately contributing to economic growth.

By promoting social protection, countries can achieve long-term, sustainable economic growth and become sustainability leaders in the global economy. As such, social protection should be a key component of any global strategy for promoting economic growth and development.


Promoting decent work and economic growth requires a multifaceted approach that considers the needs of both businesses and individuals.

By adopting these strategies, countries can create more decent jobs, increase productivity and competitiveness, and achieve long-term, sustainable economic growth. It is important for governments, businesses, and other stakeholders to work together to adopt a holistic approach to economic growth that takes into account the social, economic, and environmental impacts of development. By doing so, they can create a more prosperous and equitable global economy that benefits all members of society.

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