Decent Work

On Saturday I went to see the Oscar Short Films (Live Action) nominations. There are five in this category. The sequence started with the showing of Kavi that tells the story of an Indian boy and his parents who are forced to work as slave labor in a brick kiln. It was very hard to watch and in a sense is a story everyone knows about. The movie site is well worth looking at as it, and the film, is a vocal advocate of ending slavery – making the point that:

"Today, slavery is illegal almost everywhere, yet it continues to flourish. Bonded labor, a form of slavery, often occurs when people are tricked into taking loans from creditors who have no intention of letting them repay the loan. The creditor then uses violent intimidation to keep his workers slaving with no hope of escape."

According to Anti-Slavery International:

"A person becomes a bonded laborer when his or her labor is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan. The person is then tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, often for seven days a week. The value of their work is invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed. Millions of people are held in bonded labour around the world."

(Compare the thoughtful Kavi website with Slumdog Millionaire's purely commercial site).

There are certain groups and organizations working to inculcate principles of good and decent work. The International Labour Organization, for example, is running the Decent Work Helpdesk. The purpose of this is to help "companies to put decent work principles into practice". There is information to download on decent work and a lot of information on the website about work trends. The purpose of the ILO itself is to "advance opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity."

A similar project is the GoodWork Project . This defines good work as "work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners" and the organization describes itself as "a large scale, multi-site effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work". The Project is a research unit of Harvard Project Zero, Stanford Center on Adolescence, and the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University.

On this website you can:

  • Browse a timeline of our work
  • Learn about our Developing Minds and Digital Media Project
  • Read about our GoodPlay Project
  • Download The GoodWork Project Overview
  • Learn about The GoodWork Toolkit
  • Explore The GoodWork Toolkit interactive website

The toolkit is an excellent resource as the blurb says "to draw upon whether you are framing an entire course about good work, enhancing existing instructional designs, or facilitating small-group discussion about excellence, ethics, and engagement". It includes a values sort activity that I got hooked into, and spent a fair bit of time on. (I wonder how the values of Gregg Helvey who produced Kavi, and Slumdog Millionaire's director Danny Boyle compare?). That exercise, in itself, would form the basis of a very good discussion on the values that underpin an organization. (Or that people would like to underpin the organization).

Although ending slavery feels like the classic 'boiling the ocean' task the Goodwork Project, and the Decent Work Helpdesk offer ways of breaking down the task into manageable pieces, starting from where you are and offering the possibilities of making a greater difference.