Throughout my work in my home state of Texas and abroad, I’ve witnessed a strong connection between migration and a lack of economic opportunities. In India, rural women spoke of their husbands migrating to cities when their crops suffered. Bangladeshi families disclosed their main source of income as remittances from sons working in prosperous Middle Eastern countries. Cambodian children recounted being sold to labor in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, despite the known risks of exploitation.
Their stories are common. Unemployment hasn’t only troubled the United States, but is a significant concern worldwide. 200 million people are currently unemployed, including approximately 75 million young people. In addition, 1.52 billion workers are in vulnerable employment, and over 75 percent of people lack social security protection. The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports the rate of decline in working poverty dramatically slowed following the recent global financial crisis, resulting in 55 million more working poor than previously expected. Labour Economist Steven Kapsos of ILO states there are 900 million people working whose families remain below the two dollar a day poverty line.
The effects of unemployment are far-reaching. Migrants often move to cities for employment and growing urbanization is considered both a cause and consequence of environmental degradation. Employment, decent wages, and migration are critical concerns for world leaders and play an important role in economic, social, and environmental development. As a result, employment is a core focus at the upcoming Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. There, government officials, academics, the private sector, NGOs, and concerned individuals will come together to determine efforts for sustainable development in reducing poverty and advancing social equity and environmental protection.
In preparation for the Conference, an online platform named the Rio Dialogues was introduced to serve as a way for individuals worldwide to engage and influence the upcoming Rio+20. Facilitated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over the past two months, practitioners, experts, and the public have come together to voice their thoughts and recommendations regarding nine key areas for the Sustainable Development Dialogues process of the Conference:
- Food and nutritional security
- Sustainable development for fighting poverty
- Sustainable development as an answer to the economic and financial crises
- The economics of sustainable development, including sustainable patterns of production and consumption
- Sustainable cities and innovation
- Unemployment, decent work and migrations
- Sustainable Energy for All
For individuals that care about these topics, the Rio Dialogues serve as a way to get involved and shape sustainable development worldwide. In the Dialogue “Unemployment, Decent Work, and Migration,” contributors offer recommendations to address these issues, while focusing on marginalized populations, like women and youth workers. Recommendations suggested include stimulating economic development through innovation, competition, and investing in the green economy. Policies and programs are advised to reverse growing income inequality, improve productivity, and bring about social justice while emphasizing gender equality and migrant rights. Educational policies are also proposed, including skills-based courses for youth, development of entrepreneurial skills, vocational training, and apprenticeships. In addition, social protection policies, such as unemployment insurance, are advocated.
Having worked with migrants on access to employment, participating in the Rio Dialogues is a welcome opportunity for me to influence world leaders on this and other critical issues. Changing our world is not only reserved for heads of state, but a process in which everyone can and should contribute. To participate and shape the Rio+20 Conference, join the online Rio Dialogues. Contribute your knowledge and experience to the “Unemployment, Decent Work, and Migration” forum here.
Anjali Fleury is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School. She focuses on migration, gender, and development issues and currently is completing an internship at the UNDP providing facilitation support on the Rio Dialogue “Unemployment, Decent Work and Migration.” The views in this post are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of the UNDP.