The Purpose of Work — Reflections on ILO’s Roundtable

Being based in Brussels provides the unique opportunity to contribute to the discussions on the policies of tomorrow. Policies are the roadmaps of our goals. And when it comes to tackling climate change and transitioning to a circular economy, the EU is clearly ahead of the game.

At ILO’s roundtable yesterday, we discussed the imperative of a just transition and the challenge of reskilling workers. There was a consensus on the role of public procurement which, much more than a market regulation tool, can serve as a leverage for green economy. Each stakeholder in the room contributed to the collective exploration of what a “just” transition is, according to their priorities: some focused on the implications for fiscal reform, others on resource sourcing, etc.

As for me, I kept on playing in my mind with what stood out as an anomaly: The statement that the environmental narrative is a positive element to an inclusive growth path. I was perplexed: “How efforts aimed at keeping resources in a loop could possibly fit in the prevalent economic model based on the increase of production and consumption?”

Sure, you could think that this question is irrelevant since these very efforts are precisely redefining economic growth.

But what about everything else that has been conceptualised on this faulty premise? There are many implicit notions underlying our framework for action. Yet, they often go unchallenged. Starting with the purpose of work. Do we see work as paid employment aimed at acquiring the means of consumption? If so, what are the implications for a “just transition to a sustainable future”? If not, what are the root causes of the apathy discerned among many in the workforce?

In his insightful closing remarks, Vic van Vuuren anticipated that we would have to “transition to a different mindset” if we are to up the game and mobilize the 60 millions youth that are unemployed.

Speaking of youth, there is an increasing number of them that do not see any meaning in their jobs, or refuse to take on what they consider to be meaningless positions, and make — what most people regard as — radical choices: from leaving a lucrative business to start a bakery, to growing veggies permaculture-style in a self-sufficient rural community.

Making sure that, as policies are formulated, we also collectively explore the question of a new work ethic and reassess the current assumptions that shape our action is essential to their ultimate effectiveness.


On youth, meaning and work (in French):

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