UN SDGs and social and employment issues

by FESPA | 19/02/2021
UN SDGs and social and employment issues

Clare Taylor discusses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals regarding social and employment issues. Clare looks at Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth and Goal 5: Gender equality, both are prevalent during COVID-19.

As mentioned earlier in this series, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are about more than simply environmental sustainability: they cover all three pillars of environmental, social and financial sustainability. Good examples for the last two relevant to businesses are Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth and Goal 5: Gender equality, especially while we are all suffering the effects of the pandemic. Many businesses and people have lost work and income, as we know; globally, women have been the hardest hit by the struggle to balance unpaid care, home-schooling and work.

All the goals are interdependent, and others both closely linked to these two and relevant to business are Goals 1 No poverty, 4 Quality education and 10 Reduced inequalities.

Relevance to your business

No poverty may not feel so relevant to a business in one of the wealthier countries in the world, but it is, especially at the moment. To illustrate, in the UK in 2018/19, pre-Covid, 13% of workers were living in poverty.

But even a small business can make a difference: in Europe, for example, small and medium sized businesses make up 99% of all businesses, upwards of 70% of total employment. Collectively, they can drive change.

Looking along your supply chain
Whereas you may be paying your own employees a fair wage, the picture could be different along your supply chain. There have been many cases raised in the press of contract cleaning services or courier companies, the type of supplier many small businesses use, failing to pay fairly. The more that businesses like yours ask questions, the greater the pressure on such companies to change: one of the drivers for supply chain transparency. And, inversely, the more that your end customers take heed of what their supply chain is doing in this area, the lower the risk of you being undercut by competitors who are not doing the right thing by their staff.

Looking inwards
Within your own business, inequalities are also something that smaller businesses can help address, and they help themselves in doing so. Another global issue is that young workers are twice as likely to be among the working poor as adults. Yet our industry has an ageing workforce, a topic covered elsewhere on the FESPA website; it is not attracting enough young people. The mean age in member businesses, from the 2018 census, was 44, with only 25% of staff under the age of 35. Businesses owners are missing out on a lot of talent and enthusiasm as a result, and risk stagnating, as well as risking being unable to tick the relevant boxes on customer questionnaires.

Looking to target 4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship, could maybe help both youth and the industry. Raising awareness of the exciting technological changes within the industry, providing good in-work training, offering the remote-working flexibility that Covid made into the new norm and a good career structure to attract and retain the young into the industry translates further down the years into skilled staff to balance out that age lag and ensure that, as older staff retire, there is still the necessary knowledge and experience within the business. It’s basically succession planning on a larger scale.  

Thinking beyond your business
Increasing gender equality, if you can, is another win/win area for businesses. The gender split in the industry is very unequal: 17% female as against 80% male according to FESPA’s census. Looking at the situation in other sectors, it is interesting to note that in 2017 two of the top three sectors for gender equality were retail, with 63% of staff and 54% of top management female, and hospitality, with 51% of staff and 45% of top management female (taken from CSR Europe’s CSREurope-SDG-Whitepaper2017-The-Value-For-Europe). It would be interesting to know where those sectors fall within the spread of the industry customer base and what their supply chain expectations are.

The same report found that “…companies with at least one woman board member perform 10 percent better than companies without women board members. Furthermore, companies with more than 30 percent women in management positions have seen a 25 percent increase in profit rates on average. Culturally, companies that are inclusive in their opportunities for women and well balanced in terms of their workforce make up – reap benefits in terms of talent attraction and retention, motivation levels, diversity and attracting new customers.” So again, working on gender equality gives business benefits.

Policy and legislation

As the SDGs are global goals, adopted by more than 190 countries across the world, policies for implementing them are extremely varied, reflecting the widely different needs of the countries. This article necessarily only covers very few of the social and employment issues.
Legislation related to the topics of social and employment issue is very broad, from laws around minimum wages and equal pay to modern slavery, and there is also indirect legislation: complying with waste law, for example, helps reduce the risk of waste ending up in places where the work offered is not decent, having no protection or even consideration for workers, and certainly not well paid or, worse still, run by gangmasters using forced labour.
In summary, there are many business benefits of looking to the SDGs for social and employment issues. People who feel valued, are treated fairly, who have the flexibility needed to balance work and life as necessary and who have access to good training and progression in their job are more productive and more loyal to their employer. Customers who are working to address their own social and ethical concerns are looking at their supply chains for similar commitments. And it takes us all a step forward.

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