Our Perspectives


2015 Human Development Report: Rethinking work for human development

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Mine worker in DRCThe search for minerals in DR Congo happens in extremely dangerous conditions, without any security and with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras/UNDP DRC

From a human development perspective, work, rather than jobs or employment is the relevant concept. A job is a narrow concept with a set of pre-determined time-bound assigned tasks or activities, in an input-output framework with labour as input and a commodity or service as output. Yet, jobs do not encompass creative work (e.g. the work of a writer or a painter), which go beyond defined tasks; they do not account for unpaid care work; they do not focus on voluntary work. Work thus is a broader concept, which encompasses jobs, but goes beyond by including the dimensions mentioned above, all of which are left out of the job framework, but are critical for human development.

Work is the means for unleashing human potential, creativity, innovation and spirits. It is essential to make human lives productive, worthwhile and meaningful. It enables people to earn a living, gives them a means to participate in society, provides them with security and gives them a sense of dignity. Work is thus inherently and intrinsically linked to human development.

But it is important to recognize that there is no automatic link between work and human development. Nor does every type of work enhance human development. Exploitative work, particularly exploitation of women and children, robs people of their fair share, their rights and their dignity. Likewise, work that is hazardous - work without safety measures, labour rights, or social protection - is not conducive to human development.

More importantly, the linkages between work and human development must be seen in the context that over time the notion of what constitutes work has changed, areas of work have shifted and the modus operandi of work has evolved. What used to mean work three decades ago is no longer valid, and work is defined differently now. Now, some of these changes may contribute positively to various dimensions of human development, but some aspects of these new phenomena may have negative impacts for human development.

In the context of all these changes, time has come to relook at the issue of work in its various dimensions and dynamics through a human development lens. Thus the 2015 Human Development Report (2015 HDR) will be on Rethinking Work for Human Development.

To be launched in November 2015, the Report will zoom in on the fundamental question – how work can be rethought for human development –– to enrich human development.

Given this broader perspective, the focus of 2015 HDR will be based on five building blocks:

  • Rethinking the linkages between work and human development identifying the positive intrinsic relationship - work provides livelihoods, income, a means for participation and connectedness, social cohesion, and human dignity - but also those situations where linkages are broken or eroded - child labour, human trafficking, etc.
  • Revisiting the new world of work, where the notions of work, areas of work and modus operandi of work have changed and the implications for human development.
  • Recognizing the worth of care work and its impact on human development.
  • Refocusing on the notion of sustainable work to be incorporated into the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This will include, among other issues, the environmental value of green and low carbon emission jobs and so on.
  • Recommending policy options for reorienting, reinventing and reorganizing work so that it enriches human development

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Human development report Poverty reduction and inequality Selim Jahan

UNDP Around the world