Jahan: Work is crucial for human development | Globalization | DW | 14.12.2015
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Jahan: Work is crucial for human development

Despite overall progress in global development, the world should focus more on sustainable work that doesn't put people at risk, says Selim Jahan, lead author of the 2015 Human Development Report.

DW: This year's human development report comes 25 years after the publication of the first human development report, in 1990. How big has the progress in human development been during that time? Can you give some examples?

Selim Jahan: During the last quarter of the century, human development progress has been quite impressive all over the world. Every region has steadily progressed in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), even though after 2010 the rate of the progress has slowed down because of the financial and economic crisis.

If I take Africa, for example, between 1990 and 2015, the HDI of Africa has gone up by 30 percent - which is quite remarkable. We also know that about two billion people have been lifted out of low human development all over the world during the last 25 years. In terms of extreme poverty, more than a billion people have escaped poverty. We now have more than 2.5 billion people who have access to safe water. But it is also equally important to remember that the progress has been uneven across regions and even within a country.

Which countries or groups of people are most disadvantaged and where are the main challenges now?

If we take the group of countries, particularly the countries in Africa - even though they have made good progress, but they have started from a low level. So in that particular region, there are countries which have made good progress, but overall, the progress rate could have been better.

There are some star performers from Africa - Mauritius and Seychelles are in high human development. But we also know that Sierra Leone and Niger are at the bottom of the whole table of 188 countries.

A miner emerges from an underground pit after hours of work (photo: Mark Z. Saludes for Human Rights Watch)

Some jobs are damaging to people's health, says Jahan

The question is what are the constraints that are keeping those countries at the bottom of the table and what can we [do] about it. If we take the country itself, within the countries, there are marginalized groups. We also know that the extremely poor people are very much marginalized. In many countries, indigenous groups are marginalized. Women also do not benefit equally from the fruits of development as men in most of the societies. People with disabilities are very much marginalized. Globally, on average, women earn 24 percent less than men. Women are disadvantaged - that has a valid impact on society as a whole. Even though the women are capable, they do not have the same kind of opportunities.

This year's report puts a special emphasis on work - how do you define work in the report and is there an automatic link between work and human development?

Work is not just jobs or paid employment. Work from our view also includes unpaid care work, it also includes voluntary work, it also includes creative expression. Voluntary work also has lots to contribute to communities and to families in helping each other. Creative expressions like writing, like painting - they enhance human capabilities, they extend the frontiers of human knowledge and everything. So we are looking at work from a broader perspective.

The second point is that intrinsically we think that work will always contribute to human development by enhancing the standard of living of people and that by enhancing their capabilities, it will provide people with dignity and with prestige. But those links are not automatic.There is some work that damages human development - child labor for example. There is work that puts people at risk. They are not protected, their rights are violated.

What kinds of policies and agendas are needed to actually make sure that work enhances human development - and do you see examples going in the right direction?

Selim Jahan (photo: UNDP/ Dylan Lowthian)

Jahan is the Director of the UNDP's Human Development Report Office

We have come up with some ideas - some of them are new and others were there, but we have brought them to the forefront. One is: there have to be national employment strategies. 27 countries all over the world, including Sri Lanka, including Bangladesh, are trying to have that kind of employment strategy.

Second, for too long I think we have put too much faith on growth-led employment. We have been told that if we grow, there will be enough jobs that will be created. That did not happen. We also know there has been jobless growth in different parts of the world. So here is what we are proposing rather than growth-led employment: why don't we try employment-led growth? Why don't we try to create jobs and employment in those sectors where poor people live, try to enhance their productivity, their skill, so that there [is] an upward spiral of employment and growth?

In terms of public policy, fiscal policies are not enough. We are also proposing: why can't Central Banks have dual targeting: inflation as well as employment generation? The credit for poor people, the credit for small and medium enterprises could be brought in. We have also proposed the issue of minimum wage in the policy section - it needs to be revisited. The issue of social protection has been highlighted.

There is no magic bullet which will solve the problem, but there is a menu of options that need to be brought together and have to be tailored in the country context. Development is not a snapshot, it is a continuum.

Selim Jahan is the Director of the UNDP's Human Development Report Office and lead author of the "2015 Human Development Report: Work for Human Development."

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