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Durham University News

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Workers’ rights should be at the heart of global sustainable development, says new report

(17 July 2018)

Workers’ rights should be placed at the heart of global efforts to improve sustainable development, according to a new international study.

The Unacceptable Forms of Work: Global Dialogue/Location Innovation report, led by Durham University, UK, came as the world’s politicians met to review progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Representatives from governments around the world met in New York at the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development to follow-up on progress towards the SDGs, which were adopted in 2015.

Sustainable development

The Unacceptable Forms of Work report says that effective protection for workers - and upgrading of unsafe, low-waged and insecure jobs - is crucial for sustainable development.

The report highlights a set of global challenges to effective labour rights that are shared between rich and lower-income countries. These include casual work, forced labour, violence and harassment, informality, and the weak enforcement of labour standards.

Unacceptable Forms of Work: Global Dialogue/Location Innovation, is the outcome of a large international project funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, the UK’s flagship fund to support cutting-edge development research. The project brought together a network of researchers and policy-makers from 50 organisations in more than 20 countries.

The network is led by Professor Deirdre McCann, of Durham Law School, Durham University, UK, and is a collaboration with the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and the University of Kent. Members include academics from the universities of Cambridge, Harvard, Cape Town and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and stakeholders from labour ministries, unions, employers’ associations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in all regions.

Work/life balance

Professor McCann said: “There are comparable problems emerging across the world and innovative legal strategies need to be found to tackle them. These challenges cross-cut the sustainable development goals, including those under consideration at the High Level Political Forum.”

Professor McCann’s ongoing project in Southern Africa - in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and York University Toronto - is finding that workers’ concerns often centre on work/life balance.

She added: “This links, for example, to transport and therefore to sustainable development goal 11 on sustainable cities*, which is being discussed at the UN. Problems of safe and accessible transport to work threaten well-being and family life, puts workers - especially women - in danger, and can keep them in informal work and excluded from better-paid jobs.

“These kinds of challenges demonstrate that integrated solutions are needed to achieve the SDGs.”

Unacceptable forms of work

The Unacceptable Forms of Work report outlines a global research agenda to discover the most effective approaches to effective regulation of working life. It calls for extensive dialogue among a wide range of stakeholders at a local level, including workers themselves, and for successful strategies to be circulated at an international level.

Unacceptable Forms of Work: Global Dialogue/Local Innovation was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

* The UN’s sustainable development goal 11 aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

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