SDG 8 encourages “continued, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.” While emphasizing the importance of workers’ rights for all, it also highlights some significant tensions. We should note, for example, that, despite many criticisms of narrow economic growth measures, the focus here is on GDP and per capita growth. This is problematic, we argue, because much of social reproductive work is excluded by the GDP productive boundary. This puts SDG 8 at odds with SDG 5, which calls for the value of unpaid care and domestic work to be recognized. Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which advocates for “sustained economic growth and decent work for all,” falls short of its own ambition by failing to address issues of social reproductive work and, as a result, gender equality. We argue that focusing on GDP and per capita growth as indicators for achieving its goals ignores the value and costs of social reproduction.
SDG 8 will not be able to address the decent work agenda in a comprehensive and gendered way unless it takes into account unpaid work, which is still largely performed by women. To emphasize how a more gendered approach to decent work cannot be taken for granted, we draw attention to the social struggles that led to this Convention – those of trade unions as well as women’s groups. We then discuss how these gendered disparities constrain SDG 8’s parameters. We also argue that if social reproduction is not given the attention it deserves as a critical component of the Decent Work Agenda, we will be unable to address the depletion that is accumulated and experienced while performing this work. We conclude that a productive conversation between SDG 8 and SDG 5 is necessary to challenge a growth-led approach to development; we need an approach that focuses on a gendered measure of development that also aligns with degrowth scholars’ interventions. We demonstrate through this analysis that gender is an arc that must connect the two SDGs we focus on, though such gendered analysis could also benefit other SDGs if development is to be both sustainable and equitable. The gross domestic product (GDP) is a global indicator of economic progress.
The metric is based on the market value of finished goods and services sold within a country’s geographical borders. Externalities to the environment and societies have resulted from the limitation of GDP calculation to market value in conjunction with firm profit maximisation and consumer insatiability, two endogenized tenets of neoclassical economics. Externalities can be seen in environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources, as well as in labor market exploitation. Decent work is a difficult concept to define. It is context-dependent, affecting not only income but also quality of life indicators such as societal inclusion. Given the breadth of decent work’s impact, it’s critical to assess it in the context of a country and in terms of both quantitative and qualitative variables. As a result, while income is frequently used as a proxy for decent work, and changes in income over time are credited with defining the attainment of decent work, income only reflects one parameter. The ability to participate in societal activities, social acceptance, as well as safety and dignity both inside and outside the workplace, are all significant and important aspects of decent work that require regular measurement and assessment.
To track progress, SDG 8 uses quantitative measures of GDP and employment. However, it is clear from the discussion in this text that evaluating improvements in economic growth and decent work is fraught with definitional issues. Quantitative evaluations of economic growth and decent work may implicitly promote a single perspective of economic growth and employment, which may reduce and even eliminate cultural variation in economic system diversity over time. The literature on this latter attribution to SDG 8 and the SDGs in general is limited; in assessing SDG progress in the future, more attention should be paid to this potential for cultural convergence with respect to economic systems and other attributes. The moral dimension of the SDGs justifies a need to assess the goals outside of a market-based framework. Morality and ethics are values that guide economic choices, but they are not traits that can be instilled through financial incentives. On the surface, the SDGs, particularly SDG 8, appear to be straightforward, straightforward, and understandable goals. However, disaggregating SDG 8 with regard to unpaid work and trade, as well as nation-specific labor force dynamics and economic growth, differences in cultural norms, and the need for moral cohesion related to the promotion of the goal’s intent, reveals the goal’s implementation complexity.
Metrics aren’t the only way to measure progress toward SDG 8. To ensure that developing countries retain the ability to develop economic systems that align with both SDGs and cultural norms, successful implementation will rely on cultural sensitivity in economic policy.