The benefits of investing in human capital for long-term economic development as well as the requirement for decent work to enable sustainable economic growth in Nigeria are outlined by Naomi Nwokolo, Executive Director, UN Global Compact Network Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country with immense potential and abundant resources. It is the largest economy in Africa and the most populous nation on the continent. Yet, it also faces enormous challenges, such as poverty, inequality, insecurity, corruption, and environmental degradation. These challenges undermine the prospects of achieving sustainable economic growth, which is defined as “the maintenance and sustenance of a high real growth rate of the economy to achieve the development or economic objectives”. 

One of the key factors that can enable sustainable economic growth in Nigeria is decent work. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), decent work is “the availability of employment in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”. Decent work entails opportunities for productive work that delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families; better prospects for personal development and social integration; freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives; and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

Decent work is not only a human right but also a driver of economic development. It can enhance productivity, competitiveness, innovation, and social inclusion. It can also reduce poverty, inequality, conflict, and environmental degradation. Decent work can foster a virtuous cycle of economic growth and social development that benefits both individuals and society as a whole.

However, decent work is still a distant reality for many Nigerian workers. According to the ILO, Nigeria has one of the highest rates of working poverty in the world, with 40% of workers living on less than $1.90 a day. Moreover, Nigeria has a large informal sector that accounts for about 65% of GDP and 80% of employment. Informal workers face precarious working conditions, low wages, a lack of social protection, limited access to finance, education, and health care, and exposure to various hazards and risks. Informal workers are also more vulnerable to shocks such as pandemics, natural disasters, and conflicts.

Nigeria’s formal sector is also plagued by decent work deficits. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose to 33.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020, the second highest in the world after Namibia. The underemployment rate was 22.8%, meaning that more than half of the labour force was either unemployed or underemployed. Furthermore, Nigeria’s labour market is characterised by gender disparities, skills mismatches, low productivity, poor occupational safety and health standards, weak labour institutions, and frequent industrial disputes.

These challenges pose serious threats to Nigeria’s sustainable economic growth. Without decent work, Nigeria cannot harness its human capital potential, which is essential for long-term development. According to the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI), Nigeria ranked 150 out of 157 countries in 2020. The HCI measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18. It reflects the productivity of the next generation of workers relative to their potential if they had complete education and full health. The HCI for Nigeria was 0.34 in 2020, meaning that a child born in Nigeria today will be only 34% as productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health.


The UN Global Compact Network Nigeria promotes policies and practises that encourage decent work in Nigeria by equipping businesses and individuals with training, resources, and support to effectively put sustainable corporate practises into operation. UN Global Compact Network Nigeria implements programmes that align with the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, including Principle 3, which calls for businesses to uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, and Principle 4, which calls for businesses to eliminate all forms of forced and compulsory labour.

Between November 2022 and October 2021, the UN Global Compact Network Nigeria implemented the Young SDG Innovation Programme (YSIP). YSIP was designed to engage young people in addressing sustainability challenges and promoting innovation. Through the programme, young entrepreneurs and social innovators were given training, coaching, and resources, enabling them to create long-lasting solutions to social and environmental issues. MTN Nigeria and Oando PLC, two finalists, moved on to the Young SDG Innovators Summit, a feature of Uniting Business Live, a UN Global Compact event held on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The UN Global Compact Network Nigeria implemented Target Gender Equality between September 2021 and March 2022. (TGE). TGE is a gender equality accelerator programme that aims to increase the number of women in business leadership positions, with participation from more than 50 countries. More than 20 companies received training and support through the programme, empowering them to adopt gender-responsive policies and practises that promote gender equality in the workplace.

Nigerian companies that are members of the UN Global Compact Network Nigeria have unlimited access to courses on topics like human rights, labour standards, and responsible business practises through the UN Global Compact Academy, an online learning platform that offers training and capacity-building programmes to businesses and individuals on sustainability-related topics. These courses give businesses and individuals knowledge and skills on how to support decent work.


Decent work can contribute to economic development by providing stable and sustainable employment opportunities, which can help to reduce poverty, increase household income, and improve the overall standard of living for workers and their families. This can lead to increased consumer spending, which can drive economic growth and development.

In addition, by promoting decent work, businesses can also build trust with their stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and communities. This can lead to increased reputation and brand value, which can contribute to long-term business success and profitability.

It is imperative that Nigeria invest in decent work as a key strategy for achieving sustainable economic growth. This requires concerted efforts from all stakeholders: the government, private sector, civil society, and development partners. Some of the possible solutions include:

Implementing policies and programmes that promote job creation, especially for youth and women, in sectors that have high potential for growth and social impact, such as agriculture, renewable energy, manufacturing, and the digital economy

Enhancing the productivity and competitiveness of enterprises by providing access to finance, infrastructure, technology, innovation, skills development, and market linkages

Strengthening the legal and institutional framework for labour rights and standards by ratifying and enforcing relevant ILO conventions, harmonising labour laws, improving labour inspection, and promoting social dialogue and collective bargaining.

Expanding social protection coverage and benefits for all workers, especially informal workers. Safe working conditions are also essential for decent work. Nigeria has witnessed many preventable workplace accidents due to inadequate safety measures. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 2.3 million workers die every year due to work-related accidents and diseases. In Nigeria, workplace accidents are not properly reported, and many workers do not have access to adequate healthcare.

In order to attain sustainable economic growth in Nigeria, there is a need for decent work. Nigeria’s government and business community must make investments in the growth of human capital, which includes skill development, education, and training. Fair pay, secure working conditions, and social security benefits must also be offered to employees in the formal sector. It is necessary to enact policies that aim to end inequality and advance social justice. Nigeria’s potential to lead economic growth in Africa can only be realised if it is dedicated to providing decent employment and investing in human capital.

About UN Global Compact Network Nigeria
The UN Global Compact Network Nigeria is one of the 74 Local Networks (country offices) of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. Guided by The Ten Principles and the 17 SDGs, we support companies and stakeholders in understanding what responsible business means within a global and local context and provide guidance to translate sustainability
commitments into action. The UN Global Compact Network Nigeria stimulates and facilitates the creation of local connections and serves as a catalyst to companies and stakeholders to achieve Agenda 2030. For more information, visit us at

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