The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines decent work as “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”. Although there is no formal or universal definition of what this means in practice, the decent work ‘agenda’ generally focusses on non-discrimination, workplace safety and social security, including fair wages, paid sick leave and holiday, and decent working hours. Decent Work is not only listed as a fundamental right in the Declaration of Human Rights, it is also the focus of Sustainable development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which calls for Decent Work for all. However, this goal is still far from being achieved.
While the right to decent work is widely recognized in national laws and international conventions, its implementation in the global labour market is insufficient, particularly among micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in developing and frontier markets. With typically low profit margins, many MSME owners see the application of decent work principles, like investing in health and safety measures or providing social security benefits, as too costly. This is often exacerbated by lack of awareness of decent work, misinterpretation or a lack of understanding of the law, the lack of enforcement mechanisms, and business practices and culture that operate contrary to decent work principles.
While specific decent work standards are written into law in India, enforcement is limited and the majority of these laws doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 20 workers. In a country where 99.4% of registered businesses are considered micro-businesses, and the majority of the workforce is employed in the informal sector, decent work standards are often not the standard in practice. Child labour and sexual harassment in the workplace is widespread in India, as well as high incidences of forced labour and discrimination, particularly caste-based and religious discrimination.
Bangladesh has signed a number of international conventions on decent work, and embedded decent work standards into many national laws and regulations. However, these rights and standards are not regularly enforced, and the country is perceived as having weak legal protections for workers, lack of transparency, and an unwillingness to enforce inspection and remediation. 87% of the population are employed in the informal sector and therefore do not qualify for social protections, are often subjected to lower wages and substandard working conditions.
Recognising the urgent need for promoting decent work principles among MSMEs in India and Bangladesh, our local member organisations Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST) and Bangladesh Youth Enterprise Advice and Helpcentre (B’YEAH) deliver Decent Work training to young entrepreneurs as part of our programme ‘Accelerating Youth-led Businesses in the Digital Era’, funded by IKEA Foundation.
Over the course of the training, it became clear that young entrepreneurs have a desire to operate a responsible business, both from a legal and ethical point of view. What was lacking was knowledge and understanding as to what decent work means as well as access to tools and resources—particularly financial resources—to put principles into action.
Meet six young entrepreneurs who have completed the training and find out how they are implementing Decent Work practices in their business:
If you’d like to learn more about our Decent Work agenda in India and Bangladesh, read our brief ‘Building the next generation of responsible businesses and leaders’.