Circle Economy Foundationnews
Published on: 
February 9, 2024

Can a circular economy create good jobs? New study reveals Global North bias

A report by Circle Economy, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Programme at the World Bank summarises our breadth of knowledge regarding the quality of work in the circular economy.‍

The circular economy is growing in popularity among businesses and policymakers as a means to reach climate goals. By increasing the reuse and regeneration of products and materials, a total of 7 to 8 million new jobs can be created. However, the new report, Decent Work in the Circular Economy: An Overview of the Existing Evidence Base, identifies knowledge gaps which may hinder the creation of new employment opportunities.

This study reveals that current research on jobs in the circular economy displays a strong Global North bias. It fails to address the impact circular economy interventions have on people in countries in the Global South, atypical workers, women, migrants, youth and other vulnerable populations. Additionally, the study outlines what we currently know about jobs in the circular economy. It also pinpoints research gaps, calling for more consistent and internationally relevant evidence to create a stronger foundation for decision-making.

The report finds that 84% of current research 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% of workers in low-income countries are employed in the informal economy, most research concerns formal, regulated work.

Existing research also focuses disproportionately on job creation and 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. 

Namita Datta, S4YE Program Manager, calls our attention to poor working conditions in the Global South: ‘It is not as much the concept of circularity that needs an introduction in these economies, but instead, the focus would be on addressing the low quality, low paying jobs in the informal sector with hazardous working conditions and exposure to toxic materials that are associated with circular activities like waste management, recycling, repair and reuse'.

Speaking on the need to address the social dimension of the circular economy, Alette van Leur, Director of the Sectoral Policies Department of the ILO said, ‘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.’

Ultimately, the new report calls for more in-depth and inclusive research on decent work and the circular economy, which puts the Global South, informal workers and global value chains in the spotlight. The authors also reveal the need for joint advocacy and data partnerships to close knowledge gaps and build links to other important themes, such as climate justice and female empowerment. 

Access the full report here.

This report is the first output under the ‘Jobs in the Circular Economy’ initiative of Circle Economy, the ILO and S4YE. This initiative aims to address gaps in the evidence base for circular jobs through collaboration with an international community of research institutions, industry representatives, social partners, governments and public agencies. The launch of the initiative takes place on May 9th at the Geneva Environment Network, the details of which can be found here. Members of the initiative will also present findings from the report at this year’s World Circular Economy Forum.

Find out more about our joint initiative on our website

With thanks for the generous support from the @Goldschmeding Foundation.

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