Source: Unsplash
Source: Unsplash

Today, we’ll talk about some issues surrounding the components that make up goal number 8 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As part of the SDGs, the target of goal number 8 is to achieve (by 2030) ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full productive employment and decent work for everybody.’ Yes! It sounds amazing! Most importantly, thinking about the fact that access to jobs, fair income and equal work opportunities are crucial in the fight against poverty, goal number 8 appears to be spot-on.

How is this going to be achieved? We know businesses, large multinational corporations (MNCs), industries, and governments have a role to play. However, as individuals and citizens of the world, what role do we have to play? How can we contribute to achieve this goal? A lot can be said, but my passion steers me towards one direction: perhaps we may start by changing the way we think and what we consume.

But first let’s take a moment to explore six components of the goal. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), economic growth can be achieved by providing decent work and, in general terms decent work stands for:

• No child labour or forced labour
• Access to jobs
• Jobs with dignity
• Equality
• Fair income
• Safe working conditions

Decent work is productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity. It involves opportunities for work that deliver fair income; provide security in the workplace and social protection for workers and their families. But what are the implications behind these components?

The former General Director of ILO, Juan Somavia, said: “Decent work is at the heart of the search for dignity for the individual, stability for the family and peace in the community.”

In general terms, this suggests making global labour fair. How do we as individuals influence this? Consider this quick demonstration with chocolate: we all love chocolate, we buy it and consume it all the time, and for many special occasions. However, did you know that 80% of the cocoa that you consume comes from Africa and is harvested by children? Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Ghana produce majority of chocolate in the world and 1.8 million children in those countries work in the cocoa fields (Slave Free Chocolate). Those countries have huge problems in child slavery, and children are vulnerable to brutal labour practices and have been trafficked from other countries that are in conflict zones to work in cocoa plantations. This essentially infringes on their human and basic rights to education and health.

According to the ILO there are some 168 million children that are currently living under slave-like conditions of forced labour, and a great part of that number comes from the production of goods that we consume daily in our lives such as coffee, cotton and chocolate. More specifically, the ILO estimates reveal that about 59% of child labourers aged between the ages of 5 and 17 work in the agricultural sector, 7% of them work in industries including mining, construction and manufacturing, and about 25.4% work in services including retail trade, restaurants and transport.

Thus, across our daily lives, one way or another, depending on what we buy, we may be promoting child labour. Auret Van Heerden, a labour-rights activist suggests that the responsibility does not only rest on MNCs and governments. We, as individual, need to play an active role in ensuring an ethical supply chain.  We need to engage in ethical consumption of the products we buy.

But here is where it gets tricky. Does engaging in ethical consumption mean poor families would enjoy basic rights but at the detriment of their income? Poor families in most developing countries largely rely on child labour in order to have access to basic necessities. Thus, without getting the kids out there to work, families may wallow in poverty, and suffer from significant hunger. As part of the campaign to promote the basic human rights of poor families and to eradicate child labour, advocates have argued that consumers need to steer clear from items produced under poor labour conditions. However, this may deny some families the right to eat.

At one point, I would have boldly declared: “I want a better world free of child labour. Watch what you consume!”

There’s a hidden dilemma in all this though. Do we choose products made under conditions of child labour to help poor families afford their basic needs; or do we uphold global standards for human rights, free of child labour. Which is the correct way forward?