I have a lot of articles classified under this SDG. That’s no surprise, since decent work is part of tourism – especially sustainable tourism (target 8.9). It’s the reason why tourism ministries around the world generally view the industry as a benign force, good for economic development and providing livelihood to people. And in my travels I’ve seen many good examples for that, but also where tourism didn’t really result in as much benefit as the country hoped. Hence, why sustainable tourism has a target all to itself under this SDG.

However, decent work is about far more than just tourism. Governments around the world universally care about jobs (or at least pretend to care), because the ability to earn a livelihood is also a basic human need. It fulfils the human need for security through financial stability and the ability to cope with risk. Beyond the basic needs, it also provides for the first of the higher human needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, the need for esteem and respect. And so I think this SDG is the one that most of us can relate to directly, especially if you’re younger than 40, even if we don’t lack the basics like food, water, shelter, and warmth.

The above context is why I decided to title this page “Decent & sustainable livelihood” instead of the official SDG title. After all, the earlier SDGs all have titles that describe the desired outcome. Whereas, economic growth arguably isn’t the thing we want. It’s just the default means to it, which is really a decent livelihood and its security.

This SDG is about the part of the unsustainable economic system which incentivises exploitation of workers. A sustainable economic system should result in shared prosperity, yet despite tremendous economic growth, today we still have widespread problems of youth unemployment, loss of small businesses, erosion of labour rights, and the emergence of modern slavery.

An economic model that does not support decent work produces societies whose members are unable to fulfil their basic needs, thus unable to engage in the bigger scale sustainability questions. It also creates economic migrants and brain drain, which further erodes labour rights and reduce the availability of decent work around the world.

The lack of decent work also leads to other sustainability problems such as the commodification of culture and art, undermining communities’ ability to independently create and maintain identity. In fact, arguably target 8.5 which aims to achieve 100% ‘full and productive’ employment for every adult could be unsustainable, if no one has time left to collectively fulfil the usually unpaid social functions in neighbourhoods and society.

While not monetarily ‘productive’ nor full-time employment, these non-job occupations nonetheless often fulfil needs of esteem and respect due to their social importance in fostering healthy communities. And vibrant communities are, of course, necessary for everyone’s ability to fulfil needs of love and belonging, and the higher human needs for knowledge, beauty, growth, and transcendance.