Building an Equitable Circular Economy: Examining the Global North Bias and the Potential for Decent Work

A circular economy will create millions of  jobs; but study reveals global north bias. 
The concept of a circular economy has gained traction worldwide, promising increased efficiency, waste reduction, and climate goals attainment. However, a recent report by Circle Economy, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the Solutions for Youth Employment (S4YE) Program at the World Bank highlights a concerning bias towards the Global North in current research on the potential of a circular economy to alleviate poverty and benefit vulnerable communities in low-income countries. The report sheds light on the need for more inclusive research and calls for equitable job creation within the circular economy.


A Global North Bias

The report, titled “Decent Work in the Circular Economy: An Overview of the Existing Evidence Base,” reveals a significant disparity in research focus, with a strong emphasis on the Global North. Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa are notably underrepresented, despite hosting a considerable number of circular-economic activities. Moreover, existing research predominantly focuses on formal, regulated work, disregarding the informal economy where the majority of workers in low-income countries are employed.
While job creation is often highlighted in circular-economic discussions, the report uncovers a gap in research concerning job quality. It emphasizes the need to investigate how a circular economy can alleviate poverty and positively impact vulnerable communities in low-income countries. By addressing working conditions, wages, and social protections, the circular economy has the potential to uplift workers and eradicate poverty.

Unlocking The Potential

Alette van Leur, Director of the ILO’s Sectoral Policies Department, emphasizes the need for a just transition within the circular economy. While a circular economy offers opportunities such as job creation and sustainable enterprises, managing inequalities and suboptimal working conditions is crucial. The report underscores the importance of inclusive research, data partnerships, and joint advocacy to bridge knowledge gaps and build a more equitable and sustainable future.
The report’s recommendations call for comprehensive and inclusive research that addresses the Global South, informal workers, and global value chains. Joint efforts to advocate for decent work and data partnerships are necessary to fully understand the socioeconomic impacts of the circular economy. This initiative by Circle Economy, ILO, and S4YE aims to close knowledge gaps and provide evidence of the circular economy’s benefits to practitioners and decision-makers.
As the circular economy gains momentum, it is essential to ensure an equitable and inclusive transition that benefits all communities. By addressing the Global North bias, focusing on decent work, and closing knowledge gaps, we can create a circular economy that promotes social justice, empowers vulnerable populations, and builds a sustainable future for all.