Manifesto for decent and sustainable work

Workers around the world are suffering from exploitation. Poor working conditions, low wages and environmental degradation undermine the ability of labourers to lead dignified and fulfilled lives. The Centre for Social Research and Action (CERAS) has responded to this situation by considering the values and norms that must guide working conditions in this time of ecological transition. Two years of collaborative research among a group of thirty partner organisations has led to the elaboration of a new vision of labour that directly responds to current social and ecological challenges.

Executive summary

Inspirations

This research has drawn inspiration from the three principle sources:

  1. The broad body of Catholic Social Teaching, which seeks to situate questions of social and environmental justice within a relational framework. It highlights the need to consider what constitutes a good use of the time that each person has at his or her disposal and the complex inter-relationships that connect all life on the planet.
  2. Publications produced by the ILO on the topics of “decent work for all”[1] and “decent and sustainable jobs”[2]. These emphasise the fact that “work is not a commodity”[3] and that workers should be protected in the name of human dignity.
  3. The first-hand experience of the partner organisations that participated in research and data collection for the elaboration of this manifesto. A global perspective on the issues facing workers has been synthesised in order to recognise the most effective means for creating a healthy and sustainable work environment.

Question

This research program sought to respond to the following question: “How can we create a framework in which labour is decent, meaningful, fair and ecologically sustainable for all men and women?”

Response

This manifesto advocates for sustainable and decent work globally, now and for future generations. This aim requires all work places to respect the values of human dignity, social and environmental justice, the common good, quality of work and social-ecological solidarity.  

Five principles for work in the ecological transition

1. THE PROMOTION OF HUMAN DIGNITY

The implementation of decent work will prevent people from being treated as mere commodities. This will require the defence of universal labour rights, the promotion of “dignifying work”, the provision of decent wages and the elimination of fragmentation and competition in the workplace. Dignity in the workplace can be nurtured by providing opportunities for all workers to be creative and express themselves positively. This calls for an ethic of solidarity in defence of every workers’ rights to cooperate in labour laws and in the way labour is organised in the workplace.

2. THE PROMOTION OF SOCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

Social justice entails the creation of fair working conditions. This requires: (1) ensuring a decent wage for all workers; (2) limiting the wage gap to a maximal factor between workers and top-level managers; (3) enacting and enforcing fair and equal employment laws; (4) allowing and strengthening trade unions; (5) taking care of the relationship between consumers and producers; (6) and promoting gender equity in treatment, conditions, wages and opportunities.

Social justice requires both the equitable distribution of resources by government and the responsible use of resources by individuals. Rather than working to acquire evermore personal wealth, we need to adopt an attitude of “enoughness”. Society must orient its efforts towards the development of each individual’s capacities and capabilities[4] in order to provide every person with the conditions for a simple yet fulfilling life.

3. CARE FOR THE COMMON GOOD

The idea of caring for the common good cannot be separated from caring for common goods. Common goods include water resources, a stable climate, biodiversity, internet, and labour. It is the responsibility of public authorities to implement, protect and defend a legal and social order that regulates all economic life to the benefit of people’s lives. Yet, it is the responsibility of companies, auditing organisations, labour unions, the International Labour Organisation, and all people to make sure that a global system of labour regulation exists. Special concern should be payed to the most vulnerable as supporting them benefits society as a whole and helps achieve the common good.

4. THE PROMOTION OF QUALITY WORK

Quality of work is a subjective notion. Time is a resource that everyone needs in order to do their job well and to balance both their professional and personal lives. Trust among colleagues and within a hierarchy is a key for achieving this balance. The use of technology in the workplace can help reduce arduous work and improve labour conditions. Nevertheless, technological progress should not be solely aimed at benefitting financiers and stakeholders. If a worker or an organisation is aware of how fulfilling and meaningful it can be to cultivate good relationships, this might lessen the desire for more goods and power.

5. THE PROMOTION OF SOCIAL AND ECOLOGICAL SOLIDARITY

Ecological solidarity requires economic activities to be both socially and environmentally sustainable. Companies and organisations have a legal duty to conduct social and environmental impact assessments to measure the impact of their activities and to modify their behaviour accordingly. Regulation needs to prevent environmental destruction. Local producers should have the freedom to consume their produce, which is often denied due to the international division of labour. The production and consumption of waste should be avoided as much as possible. Products should therefore be designed to be sustainable and recyclable.


[1] ILO. Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation, 2008

[2] ILO. Decent work, the key to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, 2017

[3] ILO. Declaration of Philadelphia, 1944

[4] Martha Nussbaum, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach, Belknap Press, 2011