Programme Coordinator, Social Sustainability, UN Global Compact Network Canada
The United Nations Global Compact is Changing The Way We Think About Addressing Poverty
With approximately 235,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness and 1.2 billion people worldwide living in acute multidimensional poverty, Goal 1 of Ending Poverty in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is still far from being accomplished. Due to its multifaceted nature, poverty poses one of the greatest risks to human dignity and rights. Beyond limited income, poverty impairs one’s ability to obtain protection from violence, access health care, engage in collective bargaining, enjoy fair working conditions, and play an active role in workplaces, marketplaces, and communities. Not only that, but with forced labour being one of the most devastating implications of poverty, global studies reveal that roughly 86 per cent of modern slavery occurs in the private sector. Thus, business leaders, decision-makers, and investors must recognize the important role they play in combating corruption and scale up their contributions to the goal of poverty eradication.
The UN Global Compact Network Canada believes that it’s the mission of every business to uphold and protect human and labour rights of all workers by detecting and preventing behaviours that exacerbate poverty traps. One way for leaders to enhance ethical business practices is by using the Poverty Footprint, a digital tool for corporations and civil society organizations to evaluate their impacts on multidimensional poverty. This guide, jointly created by the UN Global Compact and Oxfam, addresses a wide range of business practices that have a bearing on poverty, including value chains, local environmental practices, branding and product development, and macroeconomics. As a comprehensive instrument that helps businesses collaborate with community leaders to bring about collective transformations, the Poverty Footprint guides business leaders in developing sustainable governance structures and competitive strategies against poverty without compromising corporate success.
Due to its multifaceted nature, poverty poses one of the greatest risks to human dignity and rights.
Increased employment by itself can’t put an end to the current global crisis. 7.6 per cent of Canadians identify as working poor, which implies that even despite having jobs, workers frequently face unpredictable work schedules, little-to-no health benefits, precarious working conditions, and low job security. For visible minority groups in Canada, in particular, poor labour conditions and unemployment rates are much higher. A York University study found that Latin American and Caribbean workers in Toronto struggle to shift away from precarious to full-time, stable employment due to racialized systemic barriers. This hinders their overall ability to overcome income disparities and prioritize personal well-being and professional development. Although at least 70 per cent of trans and queer people in Ontario possess a post-secondary degree, more than half are earning only around $15,000 per year. To ensure that anti-poverty frameworks doesn’t exclusively benefit white, heterosexual, able-bodied men, it’s important to apply an intersectional approach that takes into account the numerous social identities that compound one’s structural barriers in society.
Workers facing intersectional systems of oppression have even fewer resources at the outset and require additional measures to guarantee their equal rights to socio-economic resources. Companies must proactively identify those who are the most vulnerable in their supply chains and operations as a mandatory component of their human rights due diligence process. Beyond providing employment alone, firms should provide decent work, which guarantees proper health and safety safeguards, fair living wages, reasonable working hours, and respect for human dignity and autonomy of each employee. Businesses are encouraged to take the UN Global Compact’s Decent Work Toolkit for Sustainable Procurement, which offers practical advice such as setting key performance indicators and communicating decent work priorities to suppliers to achieve social sustainability goals.
As Goal 8 of the SDGs states, the work of businesses in combating poverty requires a collective effort towards achieving “inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all”, where one objective cannot be achieved without the fulfilment of the other. Our goal will be met once our leaders accept and put into practice the idea that community well-being and prosperity are inextricably linked to the long-term success of all businesses.