SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth

In the first part of this series (which can find here, if you haven’t read it yet), we introduced you to the concept of sustainable development and what we at Mamé Noka do to work towards it. More specifically, we talked about SDG 1: no poverty, which is the basis on which all other SDGs are built. Today, we’ll be presenting the second goal we selected as most relevant to our company and that is SDG 8: decent work and economic growth. The link between these two is quite simple: in order to escape from poverty, people need to have the possibility to work and to earn income with which they are able to provide for themselves and their families. In that way, providing employment is a prerequisite for ending poverty. BUT, as we have seen, having a job does not guarantee a life above the poverty line because many workers are hugely underpaid. That is why we need decent work which pays fairly and provides the possibility of economic growth for the individual as well as the whole society.

What is SDG 8?

Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

Basically, SDG 8 defines what type of jobs we need to create in order to end poverty and how changing the way our economy works can still lead to economic growth. The first question that must be answered is what is decent work? There are many factors that are important here, the most basic ones being that the work must provide a fair income, must be safe and a formal employment, which rules out illegal jobs. Also included in this are non-discrimination and equal opportunities regardless of gender, ethnicity, social standing etc. And finally, decent work also means improving the prospects of social integration and personal development for workers. If you want to put it simply, decent work is work that is fair, that respects the worker and his efforts and compensates for them appropriately. It is very obvious that many, many jobs even in developed countries do not correspond to this description. That is why we need laws and regulations that improve the jobs that already do exist and create new work for those still unemployed.

source: globalgoals

Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment. [1]

The second part of SDG 8 is economic growth which is intrinsically linked to decent employment for everyone: First, economic growth is necessary to create more jobs, which is especially critical for populations with a large percentage of young people, as there are more new workers coming on the job market than old ones retiring, leading to high rates of youth unemployment. On the other hand, by utilizing all the available work force the economy will continue to grow and companies as well as individuals would profit from this growth. The problematic part is to make this development sustainable, so it will not later become harmful to the people involved nor the environment. In order to protect the workers, it is necessary to promote labour rights, such as social security, limited work hours and health insurance provided by the employer. In order to protect the planet, we will need to improve resource efficiency so that more productivity will no longer mean more harm to the planet. Examples of this are the use of renewable energy and reducing carbon emission and waste production.

What is the situation in the coffee industry?

Modern slavery differs from classic chattel slavery, in which people are held as private property, but to the extent that it treats people as tools to be used and discarded, it is nearly as brutal and degrading. [2]

When we looked at poverty in the coffee industry, we already established that coffee farmers are critically underpaid because prices are dictated by the market and do not correspond to the value of the product. As we have also already said, this means that growers cannot pay for healthcare for themselves or their families, they have no security to fall back on if the harvest is bad or the economy struggles and because they are self-employed, they do not have any labour rights either. The low revenue of coffee for the growers leads to a lack of investments they could make on their own farms, meaning that they have no chance whatsoever of economic growth. All of this leads to a lot of inequality and it is always the coffee growers who suffer most from it. Basically, coffee many coffee growers are incredibly far from having decent work, their situations has even been dubbed modern slavery because of the horrible conditions. It is no wonder that many start manipulating the product (harvesting it before the fruit is ripe, finding ways to add weight) to make more profit because otherwise they could not get by. And that is something we as consumers suffer from also as it lowers the quality of the coffee and affects its taste. All in all, we can say, that instead of being appreciated for the essential work they do, coffee growers are being exploited by the industry they alone sustain.

What can we do to effect change?

The basic principle we at Mamé Noka try to follow is trade not aid, meaning we want to give the farmers the possibility of trading and earning appropriate amounts of money from their work instead of exploiting them and then wanting to fix their problems through donations and charity work. We are not saying that donating and doing charity work are not helping those in need, on the contrary often this aid is essential for the survival of many people in difficult situations. But we want to help developing countries and their citizens to get to a point where they are longer dependent on those things, where they can help themselves because they have the necessary financial resources, earned through fair trade and honest work.

Micro Washing Station in the village of Noni, Cameroon: farmers can add value to their product and get a higher price by processing their beans themselves.

On top of the laws that are being implemented to achieve SDG 8 and the jobs that are being created by companies, we as individuals can also contribute to these changes in our daily lives. First of all, we need to fundamentally change the way we look at the work done by farmers, coffee or others, and start appreciating the them for their valuable and essential contribution to society. We literally could not survive without them!  By showing farmers respect for their work, these farmers will be able to do their work with dignity and take pride in it again. Secondly, we as consumers need to make sure that all products and services we pay for come from ethical companies that provide decent work and fair pay to their employees and suppliers. If enough of us demand such changes they will happen and help coffee growers become equal and respected partners in the industry.

Check out part 3 here!

Want to read more on this topic?
Sustainable development and SDGs in general: UN websites [1] [2] [3], The Guardian, TED Talk
SDG 8: [1][2]
Working conditions for coffee farmers: daily coffee news, coffeelands

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