Who Will Be Excluded in Our Digital Future of Work? – #HDR2016

  • Laura Monti
  • Digital dividends, Future scenarios, Reports
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In its annual #HDR2016 report — launched earlier this year in Stockholm — UNDP focuses on how we can achieve the universality needed to realize the 2030 Agenda’s principle of leaving no one behind. Universality is the principle where in order to achieve sustainable development we need to ensure human development is attainable by everyone.

This year’s Human Development Report on Human Development for Everyone celebrates the impressive strides the world has made in human development over the last quarter-century. But this development has been uneven, the report points out, in other words, it has not been universal. The report explores who has been left out and why. The analysis and policy recommendations offered in #HDR2016 point to new responses to how we could foster inclusive and sustainable economic growth and create decent work for all in a future of work we want.


(Human Development Report 2016 | UNDP, 2017)


Key Report Findings: Various Groups Continue to Face Barriers to Human Development

  • One in three people worldwide continue to live in places that have low levels of human development, as measured by the Human Development Index
  • More than 250 million people in the world face discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity
  • In 100 countries, women are legally excluded from some jobs because of their gender

We still face many complex development challenges, such as deepening inequalities within and between nations and jobless economic growth. Linked to the three key emerging risks of our digital future (concentration, inequality, and control), we are now seeing new digital barriers to human development created by new forms of digital exclusion, exploitation, and deprivation. It is exactly these digital barriers to human development that have led governments, research councils in many countries, and multilateral organizations to invest resources to better understand the potential impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on their respective societies and economies — and identify ways to mitigate the risks. For example, emerging technology has been identified as a major policy and research funding priority by the 2017 G7 Italian Presidency, Singapore’s Foresight 2015 Report, Canada’s SSHRC Future Challenge Areas, the United States’ Ten Big Ideas for Future NSF Investment, Finland’s Foresight 2030, and the ILO’s Future of Work Centenary Initiative to name a few.  

RELATED: The Emerging Risks of Our Digital Future – Part III

As noted by Longo et al, 2017, when we think about our place in the digital realm, especially the Big Data we produce, those who are disadvantaged and living in conditions of poverty are often rendered digitally invisible – not counted. On top of this, early research shows that the more connected and networked we are, the Internet will largely reinforce or amplify power relations in society and not disrupt existing accountability relationships, which are biased toward more privileged groups. These new forms of digital exclusion are linked to the challenges of the digital divide and distribution of digital power towards greater digital equality. As our economies digitize and societies become more networked, new forms of digital exclusions and digital labour exploitation must also be considered as emergent barriers to universal human development.

Recalling an earlier article on the top ten frontier technologies for development, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee stressed that:

“The potential and limitations of these technologies are fundamentally dependent on choices that we make, today and in the future – choices about keeping platforms open and interoperable, choices about hardwiring users’ rights and freedoms into our technologies, and choices about systematic efforts to overcome the new patterns of exclusion that new technologies inevitably create. Without due care and attention, these new technologies will become uneven playing fields, with a select few winners and many more losers.”

To overcome the barriers (including digital ones) to human development, we must first identify who is being left behind. Various groups and identities suffer from basic deprivations and face substantial barriers to overcoming them. Eight disadvantaged groups were identified by UNDP. Due to their vulnerabilities, these eight groups living with less power are also more likely to become digitally invisible in our digital future of work.

(Barriers to Universal Human Development | UNDP 2017)  

  • Women and girls: Long-standing patterns, social norms, and gender-based discrimination in legislation — as well as community and house decisions-making — disempower and limit women and girls’ opportunities and choices.  Gender-based violence, in particular against women, and its associated trauma are among the worst forms of disempowerment.
  • Ethnic minorities: Worldwide, close to 250 million people face discrimination solely based on their inherited status and caste. In both the Global North and South, ethnic minorities have few opportunities. Looking at disaggregated data in the Human Development Index by ethnic groups in the US, Native Americans (3.55) and African Americans (3.81) fall well below the US average of 5.03, while Asian Americans scored 7.21.
  • People in vulnerable locations: Individuals born into geographically isolated communities have fewer opportunities than others because of limited access to institutions, markets and resources. These communities are mainly inhabited by politically and socially excluded minorities. People who live in place-based conditions of violence and insecurity, such as in fragile states or areas in which populations experience environmental racism suffer huge disadvantages.  

RELATED: Leaving No One Behind: Appropriate Aggregation and Right Disaggregation

  • Migrants and refugees: Individuals born into disadvantage have few strategies to better their conditions. One option may be to leave their homes and communities in search of more physically and economically secure environments. In 2016, there are 23 million refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people, and 50 million irregular migrants.
  • Indigenous peoples: Indigenous people face deprivations caused by social, economic and political exclusion. Many face stigmatization, structural racism, as well as individual and community discrimination. There are over 370 million self-identified indigenous peoples in over 70 countries. Indigenous self-determination is limited by the right of states to territorial integrity and control.
  • LGBTI+ individuals: Many individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and plus (LGBTI+) face extreme discrimination in social and economic life that deprives them of dignity, basic rights, and opportunities. In 2016, 13 countries had death penalty laws for people who engage in same-sex sexual acts and 73 countries have made such acts illegal among men, and 45 countries among women.
  • Older people: By 2020, there will be more people over the age of 60 than children under the age of 5 on the planet. Many older people suffer from ageism – the prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory policies and practices that negatively target the elderly. Deprivations experienced in old age are accumulated through the lifecycle. Poverty rates are higher among older women than among older men, and many face psychological and physical abuse.
  • Persons with disabilities: Physical and social barriers may deprive persons with disabilities of the chance to achieve their full life potential. One billion individuals live with some form of disability and they may face severe mobility challenges and discriminatory hiring practices. Individuals with mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to economic and social exclusions.  

As we continue to shape and create the future of work we want in our digital future, new forms of digital exclusions and digital labour exploitation must be better understood as they can act as emergent barriers to universal human development. To learn more, the ITC-ILO invites you to enroll in the free 2017 flagship Technology@Work MOOC on the new frontiers of digital and labour transformation in our world of work.

Further Readings: