There has been considerable progress made toward the Sustainable Development Goals, but not enough. According to the UN’s 2023 Special Edition Sustainable Development Goals Report released this summer, “progress on more than 50 per cent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 per cent, it has stalled or gone into reverse.” The polycrisis, which includes climate change, conflict in various parts of the world, and social unease, it reported, is hindering progress. As a result, the international body is calling on its members to “redouble efforts” in the years ahead. This includes efforts in the direction of achieving decent work and economic growth.

The concept and implications of decent work, however, needs to be thoroughly understood and agreed to begin with. The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as “productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”. In general, work is considered as decent when:

  • it pays a fair income
  • it guarantees a secure form of employment and safe working conditions
  • it ensures equal opportunities and treatment for all
  • it includes social protection for the workers and their families
  • it offers prospects for personal development and encourages social integration
  • workers are free to express their concerns and to organize

Considering this, it should be clear that decent work is rooted in developing a world based on equity. And this, in turn, is at the very heart of Randstad’s vision and mission. During the pandemic our industry was classified as essential in order to ensure that industries like transportation, health care, and the services industry could continue to operate. Furthermore, it has become evident that diverse forms of work like temporary agency work are well-regulated because our workers are provided with decent work, access to social protection and learning and development wherever and whenever needed. 

woman smiling working in warehouse on conveyor belt
woman smiling working in warehouse on conveyor belt

taking progressive steps towards decent work for all

Proactively working towards realizing the goal of decent work helps build a more robust global economy. This requires full, productive employment, which itself supports equitable growth and more prosperous conditions. That’s why it is crucial for business leaders and policymakers to maintain focus on creating fair and quality work opportunities for all, as our current labor laws and social protection systems are not keeping up with today’s labor market realities. This means we cannot leave anyone behind, as doing so will worsen inequities and social exclusion.

As we move towards the goal of full employment and decent work for all, we are confronted with growing opportunities that come with challenges in an ever-evolving labor market. Over the past three years, digitization's rapid advancement has - and will continue to - reshape employment dynamics. For instance, gig and platform work have gained significant traction and, while these offer new ways for workers to connect with customers and employers to earn a living, they may also lead to expansion of the informal economy. In that case, potentially millions seek employment but also face exploitation risks due to a lack of regulation and support.

These challenges and opportunities help highlight specific areas for improvement in our world of work. These must be tackled through tangible actions. These areas include increasing employment opportunities, particularly for young people and women. We also need to reduce informal employment, minimize labor market inequality, and gender bias, including the gender pay gap. On a more macro scale, we need a joint effort to enhance resource efficiency in consumption and production while advocating for safe and secure work environments. A more equitable world of decent work would also benefit from facilitating better access to financial services so that all great ideas can come to life.

By concentrating efforts on these critical areas, we can foster a more just and social future, ensuring that individuals requiring additional support are afforded the opportunity to realize their full potential. Furthermore, addressing these concerns contributes to economic growth, benefiting all segments of society. It's also essential to acknowledge that not everyone starts from the same place; thus, leveling the playing field is imperative. These pivotal areas fundamentally align with the overarching goal of achieving decent work for all.

quote icon

Through joint, concerted efforts we can actively work towards a world where all employees, across economies, can reap the benefits of a fairer state of employment and opportunity.

sonja van lieshout
head of public affairs, randstad

look to existing initiatives as inspiration

So how can the global community speed up progress in promoting fair and decent work for all, regardless of their gender, age, socio-economic background or employment contract-type? Replicating successful programs is one of the most effective ways to achieve these goals. Around the world, there are many initiatives to look to for inspiration. 

For instance, since 2010, the Dutch program “Baanbrekend” is a good example of a public-private partnership that supports unemployed people in getting back to work and promoting a more equitable working environment through individual coaching and guidance. Participants range from young talent new to the labor market to those who have been on government support. It was co-created between the Dutch municipalities, Public Employment Services UWV, and Randstad Netherlands. Research has shown that the chances of being employed is estimated to be four times higher when someone is supported by a program such as Baanbrekend. 

Over in Australia, the 2015 creation of the “Shaping Young Futures” Program has helped young unemployed develop their job seeking skills and connect them with organizations willing to invest in the talent force of the future. The program includes: Coaching and mentoring programs; Preparation and development of career awareness and job-seeking skills; Employer partnership programs with real job outcomes; Networking, coaching and matchmaking events with clients and consultants.

Another program aimed at promoting equal employment opportunities is the Women Transforming the Workplace, a Canadian initiative launched more than 10 years ago to empower and give voice to working women. These and other initiatives show that local, sustainable efforts, collectively, make a strong impact on the achievement of global goals for a fairer, more equitable world of work. 

Through such joint, concerted efforts we can actively work towards a world where all employees, across economies, can reap the benefits of a fairer state of employment and opportunity. This requires partnerships across the global community so that the goal of a more equal, peaceful and prosperous society can be advanced and reach all.

Explore our latest position paper on fair and quality work for all, new social protection systems, and Randstad’s best practices from Belgium, France, and The Netherlands 

about the author
sonja van lieshout photo
sonja van lieshout photo

Sonja van Lieshout

head of public affairs

Sonja is responsible for global public affairs with a focus on developing the global strategic public affairs agenda including advocacy, strategic stakeholder engagement and thought leadership. Her network consists of the ILO, OECD, European Institutions, business networks, think tanks, academia and social partners such as central employers organizations and Trade Unions. As a member of the global board of the World Employment Confederation and the Executive Committee, her main drive is strategically contributing to the development of the employment & recruitment industry on both a global and European level. Sonja also chairs the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on behalf of the employers and in her private life, she is a member of the Executive Board of the UP Foundation, focusing on the well-being of parents of special needs children.

discover our latest position paper on fair and quality work for all.

download now