Book cover: Transitioning to Decent Work and Economic Growth
Open Access Edited Book

Transitioning to Decent Work and Economic Growth

Published: June 2021
Pages: 249
ISBN 978-3-03897-778-0 (hardback); ISBN 978-3-03897-779-7 (PDF)
This book is part of the book series: Transitioning to Sustainability
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According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the private sector plays a key role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). After all, sustainable and inclusive economic growth is essential to enable more people to participate in global prosperity. Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to SDG 8, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labor, slavery, and human trafficking. Since more than 90 percent of jobs are created by the private sector, more attention must be paid to entrepreneurs that help create dynamic and responsible enterprises that often generate positive externalities for society and the environment through investments in scalable innovations and a commitment to local embeddedness. As such, they help lift people out of poverty through new and relatively well-paid jobs and enable local economies to become more sustainable through global value chain integration.

Transitioning to Decent Work and Economic Growth explores the prospects for SDG 8 in the Global South as well as the Global North. It especially considers the positive role the private sector may play as an enabler of human rights, creator of decent work and engine for inclusive development in different contexts. Further, it examines how the institutional environment can facilitate economic change, which may lead to social empowerment and enhanced economic opportunities. A key question the volume explores, is how—in an entrepreneurial context—innovation and scientific knowledge contribute to the creation of scalable innovation that help to de-couple economic growth from the use of natural resources.

Transitioning to Decent Work and Economic Growth is part of MDPI's new Open Access book series Transitioning to SustainabilityWith this series, MDPI pursues environmentally and socially relevant research which contributes to efforts toward a sustainable world. Transitioning to Sustainability aims to add to the conversation about regional and global sustainable development according to the 17 SDGs. The book series is intended to reach beyond disciplinary, even academic boundaries. 

For use of the SDG logos and design, please see the according Guidelines for the use of the SDG logo, color wheel, and 17 icons.


sustainable economy; economic growth; work; decent work


Published with the generous support of the Swiss National Science Foundation.


  • Preface to Transitioning to Decent Work and Economic Growth
    In the preface of the book on SDG 8, Isabelle Schluep, Philipp Aerni and Marianthe Stavridou introduce the reader to decent work and economic growth by discussing the development of the Sustainable Development Goals in the aftermath of the Millennium Development Goals and the efforts made by the international community to provide the economy with a more equal and inclusive perspective. In the second part of the preface, the authors present the chapters of the book.
  • Economic Development and Cultural Change: The Role of Multinational Enterprises in Mexico’s Emerging Dual Economy (1970s to 2000s)
    This article focuses on multinational enterprises (MNEs) in Mexico between the 1970s and the 2000s. From a business and economic history perspective, it depicts the MNEs’ transformation in the context of Mexico’s integration into global value chains (GVCs) from sceptically viewed outsiders to engines of economic development and normative role models. This transformation resulted from an interplay between economic cooperation and cultural change. The idea of embeddedness and reconstructed business discourses on enterprises’ social responsibility and on total quality management serves to grasp this interplay conceptually and methodically, respectively. In fact, when local businesses established or intensified collaboration with foreign MNE subsidiaries, they engaged in the joint promotion of cognitive and normative ideas about the challenges of the global market, and how they could be met. Notably, they promoted the idea that competitiveness in GVCs allowed for or even required social responsibility. Indeed, this “globalised Mexico” consisting of MNEs and their often big local partners is an example that economic growth and social standards can be simultaneously reached, as postulated by Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8. However, this is not the reality of most micro, small- and medium-sized companies that constitute the majority of business, the other part of Mexico’s dual economy. Therefore, the article also demonstrates that the “virtuous cycle” of economic performance and social responsibility is historically contingent, and that it can work, but not necessarily and not for all.
  • Challenges for the Host Society—Human Trafficking, Slavery and Abuse in the Work Context
    The mobile labor force benefits host societies with diverse forms of human capital. The economic value and potential of people migrating for work offer incentives for the development of illicit and abusive practices that employ the vulnerability of the migrants and an institutional lack of attention or experience. This may happen regardless of the skill-level of the migrants, but particularly migrants who are new, inexperienced, and low-skilled may be targeted by actors who wish to exploit their state. These mechanisms may already start during recruitment in the home country by transnational criminal networks, but they also emerge organically in the host country if there are available activity-scapes for such practices. This phenomenon of human trafficking, slavery, and abuse related to work entered Finland in recent decades. The actors involved are often of foreign-origin or within ethnic enclaves, which also creates cultural- and language-related institutional divides. We found that a host country that is highly developed may not have the needed institutional experience, understanding, or attention to effectively combat the phenomenon. We suggest that preventive governance with more targeted collaboration across governance, diaspora organizations, and civil society could reduce illicit opportunities and increase awareness of what is appropriate and acceptable, i.e., decent work.
  • "Business as Part of the Solution": SDG 8 Challenges Popular Views in the Global Sustainability Discourse
    Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) aims to make the global economy more inclusive by directing its attention to the many unmet material needs of the poor on this planet. SDG 8 also recognizes the need to decouple economic growth from the unsustainable use of natural resources. Tackling these challenges effectively requires action-oriented public–private partnerships and the mobilization of innovative entrepreneurship for sustainable and inclusive change. However, this approach is contested in the current global discourse on sustainable development in affluent societies, which is more concerned about the negative impact of economic growth. This concern is also omnipresent in the teaching material used in “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD). It is often strictly normative in nature and frames the pursuit of growth-oriented business activities as being opposed to sustainable lifestyles. This chapter challenges this view by looking at business not just as an external black box, but as an integral part of society. In this context, concrete examples are presented to illustrate how sustainability challenges have been addressed effectively in society by making “business part of the solution”. Since SDG 8 stands for such an approach, it could lead the way from the rhetoric to action in the decade that remains to meet Agenda 2030.
  • Memories of a Practitioner: Ciba–Geigy Crop Protection Activities in Indonesia in the 1980s, an Example of Local Embeddedness
    After the end of World War II, an international initiative was launched by the US government to respond to the looming food crisis in the Global South, through large-scale public sector investments towards the improvement of the productivity of the world’s major staple crops. Ciba–Geigy Agrochemicals and Ciba–Pilatus Aerial Spraying Co. were, at the time, strongly involved in the process through the delivery of large quantities of crop protection products under government contracts. This was also the case in Indonesia where the author worked for Ciba–Geigy in the 1980s. Looking back, he finds that Ciba–Geigy only started to focus on the farmer as the main client in a comprehensive way when the government of Indonesia withdrew from its function as a provider of subsidized agrochemical input to farmers. Once the farmer rather than the government became the main client, Ciba–Geigy started to create many direct and indirect benefits for local farmer communities through capacity development programs that included the transfer of soft skills, more sustainable and productive agricultural practices, and business development skills. This commitment to local embeddedness also contributed to higher local average incomes, more jobs, better schooling for kids and improved public health conditions. This change of behavior is illustrated by concrete initiatives developed and implemented by Ciba–Geigy and its legacy companies. Pointing out that business can also be part of the solution, UN SDG 8 introduced a more solution-oriented view of sustainable development that may gather momentum in future policy approaches to achieve Agenda 2030 and new ways of teaching sustainable development.
  • Multilevel Sustainability Tensions of MNEs in Developing Countries
    Translating the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the local context can be a challenging pathway. Promoting “inclusive and sustainable economic growth”, as advocated by SDG 8, can be fostered or hindered by relevant economic actors depending on global and local framing conditions. This is the case for subsidiaries of multinational enterprises (MNEs) operating in developing countries, which are confronted by highly regulated international standards and weaker local institutional settings. The global–local tension is complicated by the growing trend of MNEs to adopt their own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) guidelines. Ethical tensions faced by MNEs are not new in the literature; there is, however, limited knowledge on how a company’s guidelines are conceived in the global–local relationship. Additionally, the literature on CSR has been dominated by a win–win perspective, neglecting trade-offs inherent in the multifaceted nature of sustainable development. The following literature review aims to address the abovementioned knowledge gap, by exploring literature on tensions occurring between global ethical standards, local contexts and CSR guidelines faced by MNEs operating in developing countries, with a perspective on tensions happening in and between the three levels. The review is positioned in the international business ethics literature and brings together two distinguished debates on “business ethics and culture” and “trade-offs in CSR”. By investigating current discourses in the literature addressing multilevel tensions faced by MNEs, this chapter highlights research gaps and proposes new avenues of research. Additionally, five criteria are developed to guide the identification of relevant theoretical frameworks for empirical explorations of multilevel sustainability tensions faced by MNEs.
  • Agriculture in the Face of Climate Change: Sustained and Inclusive Economic Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainable Development
    Climate change and weather extremes are already impacting millions of people, devastating crops, eroding coastlines, and threatening freshwater reserves. The agricultural sector is extremely vulnerable to the potential threats of climate change and must be prepared to mitigate and adapt. Decisive measures could help agriculture face expected changes, help keep global temperatures in check and also serve and create synergies between climate and sustainable development goals. Climate-smart agriculture—with its three objectives: sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and income, greater resilience of food systems, and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with farming—may represent a model to best help direct our actions. Addressing the socio-economic and environmental challenges related to climate change requires a concerted effort from all actors and locally adapted responses to ensure we move towards sustained and inclusive economic growth (SDG 8). Businesses have already started to act and need to be supported in their efforts by a system of policies and an enabling environment for multistakeholder collaborations.
  • Renewable Energy Employment Gender Gap
    Renewable energy is seen as avant-garde and a pathway towards a more sustainable future. This modern and growing sector is often perceived as progressive and conducive to a more democratic and inclusive society. In the context of the SDG 8, our paper sets out to examine this claim and to assess opportunities for gender inclusion and equality in the renewable energy workforce. We examine the rationale for equity and inclusion under SDG 8 and evaluate how gender is reflected in its targets and indicators, as well as how they are related to SDG 5 and SDG 7. We then employ mixed methods research to examine the gender gap in the renewable energy workforce and discuss specific challenges and good practices in the sector. We found that the socio-economic progress deriving from renewable energy does not necessarily extend to gender diversity in its workforce. We argue that gender diversity can be compatible with economic growth when the benefits of economic growth and those of gender parity are mutually reinforcing. Inclusive growth in the renewable energy transition is possible when women are empowered to participate fully, effectively and competitively in their career.
  • "Me muess d’Lüt neh wie si syAnderi gits e keini”. Decent Work and Sustainable Development for the 21st Century: The Case of Wyon AG in Switzerland
    Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Switzerland are the backbone of the Swiss economy and account for 2/3 of employers in the country. This paper examines decent work and sustainable economic growth as promoted by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8. The author focuses on Small and Medium Enterprises and discusses business ethics and human-centred values as drivers of inclusive change. We argue that Swiss Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), in many cases, create a new paradigm of doing business, relying on tradition, innovation and a focus on essential human values. Traditional communitarian values, a vision for innovation, democratic flat decision-making structures and transparency, as well as financial independence, are crucial elements of the SME-strategy, offering decent work and a sustainable long-term prosperity. As an example of a Swiss SME, we examine Wyon AG a small high-end technology firm in the village of Steinegg, District of Rüte, in the Canton Appenzell Innerrhoden. This is a desk research.

Review Mode

Each chapter in this edited book has been reviewed by the editor/s as well as an external expert who reviewed each chapter of the book and provided an overall review. The opinions expressed in the chapters do not reflect the view of the publisher.

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