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Transitioning to a Just and Fair World: What’s at Stake

DAY 2 | 21 March
13:30-15:00 GMT+5:45

Image by Andreas Gücklhorn


Various economic transitions are underway, impacting business operations, workers' livelihoods, and their enjoyment of human rights. The transition seeking to“green” the economy has dominated public debates, especially in mitigating and adapting to the ongoing climate emergency and seeking to radically switch to a sustainable, net-zero future. Calls are mounting, for example, to address the converging crises of climate change, inequality and social exclusion in tandem as climate change impacts economic opportunity, poverty, inequality and social exclusion, which can lead to social unrest and polarization and, ultimately, weaken support for climate action. But other economic transitions which might not be front of mind are also underway. For example, technological advancements in the automation of production as well as artificial intelligence, are set to replace jobs in South Asia. And as was discussed during previous Forums, stakeholders are calling on governments to address the plight of informal workers by formalizing the informal economy.  


To make substantial progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is crucial to ensure that these economic transitions – greening the economy, automating the economy, and formalizing economy – do not come at the expense of workers. In other words, we need to ensure “just transitions”. The concept of just transition is said to be coined in the 1980s, when it was used in a movement by trade unions to protect workers affected by environmental regulations. In recent years, the just transition concept has gained traction with reference to meeting climate goals by ensuring the whole of society – all workers, all communities, all social groups – are brought along in the pivot to a net-zero future.


While there is no uniform or authoritative definition of just transition, the concept generally refers to ensuring that economic transitions are underlined by a human rights-based approach to ensure that such transitions address, instead of exacerbate inequality, marginalization and/or vulnerability of workers and rights holders. For example, in relation to greening the economy, the ILO defines a just transition as “greening the economy in a way that is as fair and inclusive as possible to everyone concerned, creating decent work opportunities and leaving no one behind.”


If done right, just transitions offer immense opportunities: a systems change in which all workers, communities and countries are lifted up. But in order to achieve this, governments need to ensure that their transition policies benefit the economy as a whole (including workers), while businesses would need to prevent and mitigate transition-related human rights impacts on their workers. In the context of greening and automating the economy, among other things, this would require alternative job creation that integrates decent work standards and human rights to ensure workers are not left behind. Moreover, in respect of formalizing the informal economy, efforts will need to be made to ensure that formalization strategies and policies are inclusive of the needs of informal workers and do not create an additional layer of inequality or marginalization.


Session Description 


The session aims to provide an overview of the concept of “just transitions”, provide examples of how this concept can be applied to various economic transitions, and outline potential impacts on workers in South Asia, including by hearing from workers and their representatives themselves. Moreover, the session will stimulate debate among panelists and speakers on the specific impacts faced by workers, and what governments and businesses can do to ensure that economic transitions are grounded in a human rights based approach.


Session Objectives 

  • Provide a brief overview of the concept and different forms of just transitions

  • Provide a brief overview of the challenges workers, businesses and governments will face in the context of just transitions, especially in the context of business and human rights

  • Hear from workers how just transitions are impacting and will impact them in the future

  • Debate interactively how different stakeholders can navigate just transition strategies



  • What does the concept of “just transitions” entail?

  • How can this concept be applied to different types of economic transitions and business-related human rights themes?

  • How will different transitions affect workers in South Asia, and what can businesses and governments do to ensure that such transitions are underlined by a human rights-based approach?

  • Q&A and discussion between panelists and participants


  • Pichamon Yeophantong, UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights

  • Farah Kabir, Action Aid Bangladesh

  • Lorenzo Urbinati, FORUM-Asia

  • Shankar Limbu, Lawyers' Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP)

  • Kevin Lehmann, UNDP

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