The transition to a circular economy could lead to the creation of millions of new jobs. At the same time, this shift calls for informed policies that promote both job quality and environmental sustainability.
However, a new report has shown a lack of research in developing countries, where the vast majority of waste management and recycling jobs are located.
The report has been produced by the International Labour Organization, the Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Programme at the World Bank, and Circle Economy – a non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable development.
It has been estimated that a total of seven to eight million new jobs could be created in the circular economy, where all forms of waste, such as clothes, scrap metal and obsolete electronics are reused, recycled and refurbished.
This helps protect the environment, contributes to the better use of natural resources and supports the development of local economies.
The report, Decent Work in the Circular Economy: An Overview of the Existing Evidence Base , says that current research on jobs in the circular economy fails to fully address the impact circular economy interventions have on people in countries in the Global South, atypical workers, women, migrants, youth and vulnerable populations.
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The report finds that 84 per cent of research combining decent work and the circular economy focuses on countries in the Global North. Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa were the least represented regions – despite the fact that most circular economy activities are now located in the Global South. Moreover, while 73 per cent of workers in low-income countries are employed in the informal economy, most research concerns formal, regulated work.
‘There is no doubt that a circular economy can help us reach our climate goals. However, the links between circularity and the achievement of social and economic progress remain overlooked. The shift towards a more circular economy offers significant opportunities for the world of work, such as the creation of new jobs and sustainable enterprises,’ said Alette van Leur, Director of the Sectoral Policies Department of the ILO.
Existing research on decent work in this sector also focuses disproportionately on job creation and largely disregards job quality, including working conditions and wages. The report finds that only a handful of studies have examined whether and how a circular economy can alleviate poverty and benefit vulnerable communities in low-income countries.