Technology and the workplace: Putting people first

Published: 2 Jun 2020
Type: News

Geneva, 2 June 2020 – Over 20 global member companies of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have collaborated to develop shared business principles aimed at putting people first when it comes to the impact of technology on how work is carried out by direct employees, contract and temporary workers, and workers throughout the supply chain. This includes automation, digitization, AI, machine learning, ICT, platform technologies, IoT, virtual & augmented reality, 3D/4D printing, and more.

The business principles for people-centered technology transformation call for companies to:

  • Respect workers’ rights when developing and implementing new technology
  • Engage workers in technology transformation, by communicating transparently, consulting with workers and involving them in the design and adoption of technologies
  • Empower workers to benefit from new technology, through learning, training and support, by ensuring inclusion and by fairly sharing the benefits of tech-driven improvements

Shaping a future of work where people can thrive is essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The combination of rapid technological evolution, socio-economic polarization and the shifting expectations of workers have been the main drivers shaping the world of work over the past years. Predictions abound on how many jobs may be displaced by technology and there are numerous scenarios trying to visualize what the future of work may look like, what work may look like, and where we may be carrying out our work.
The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the uptake of technological solutions across business, workplaces and private life. Numerous technologies enabling business continuity across value chains while minimizing personal exposure have seen unprecedented growth rates. At the same time, assessing or preparing for the impact of these solutions being deployed at unprecedented speed and scale is an ongoing challenge.

Some WBCSD members are already using the principles to guide the development of corporate technology strategies and policies. Suphachai Chearavanont, CEO of Charoen Pokphand (C.P.) Group, said: “C.P. Group will join hands with WBCSD and its members to promote an inclusive ‘Future of Work’ through constructive engagement with all stakeholders based on the ‘Future of Work Principles.’  These Principles will guide us to groom our next generation of leaders, who utilize technology in a responsible manner while maximizing its impacts in order to combat inequality and mitigate climate change.  In doing so, C.P. Group is also a strong and optimistic believer in the value of public-private partnerships as an important catalyst to achieve our goals.”

Peter Bakker, WBCSD President & CEO, commented: “As companies learn to adapt to our ‘new normal’, we have seen that technology has played a huge role in enabling business resilience. Now is the time to shape the future and ensure that it is people centric. The principles aim to inform and guide technology-related business decisions, ensuring that technology benefits workers, now and for the years to come. Adopting these principles will help companies to build the ongoing trust, preparedness and resilience of their own workforce, attract and retain the best talent, stay ahead of the curve on expectations and regulations, and contribute to a thriving workforce, company, labor market and society.”

“Technology is having an unprecedented impact on the workplace. Transformative changes make the question of whether employees are prepared for the future of work a very important one. In a world where digital is the new normal, it’s more important than ever to forge new coalitions of governments, businesses, NGOs and all critical stakeholders work together to create an environment where workers feel powered and engaged and can grow as individuals,” says Jacques van den Broek, CEO, Randstad NV. “Technology is very much part of this journey into the future. It must be there to empower rather than bypass or replace people. By supporting people in realizing their full potential we can help not only shape the world of work, but also drive lifetime employability and sustainable economic growth. That is what we call Human Forward.”  

Cláudia Azevedo, CEO, Sonae, stated: “The challenge of the future of work, in which we are now deep diving, studying and investing, encompasses a significant shift on the way we work, collaborate and interact not only with colleagues and clients, but also, and mainly, with technology. Aiming to have the workforce prepared for the upcoming technological transformation, we need to accelerate the reskilling and upskilling of our teams. Nonetheless, the urgency and speed needed must never overlap people’s protection and respect. This must always be our priority and this moment of complex disruption we’re living in is no exception. We have to make sure that we give people the right conditions and means to accomplish significant changes in their professional lives, feeling secure and motivated. Sonae is committed with the Future of Work Principles, proposed by the WBCSD, as we believe it defends the only way we can succeed in this huge technological transformation the world is facing.”

For his part, Sogo Fujisaki, VP, Responsible Business Division and Purpose Activation Office, Sustainability Unit and Fujitsu’s Liaison Delegate to WBCSD, observed: “In an ever-changing world, the Future of Work and how that links to the rights and wellbeing of our employees and society are of paramount importance. Fujitsu, in line with our Purpose, endeavors to make the world more sustainable by building trust in society through innovation. Being human centric and inclusive is at the core of this. The principles WBCSD have built are an important statement which we are proud to be part of.”

Germán Granda, Managing Director, Forética, WBCSD’s Global Network partner in Spain, commented: “People-centered technology transformation is one of the main challenges our member companies are experimenting these days. WBCSD’s principles help them to understand what to do and where to focus on their way towards a more sustainable future of work for everybody.”

Mike Burrell, Executive Director of the Sustainable Business Council added: “As WBCSD’s Global Network partner in New Zealand, we strongly encourage our members to use these principles which put people at the heart of every business and at the core of everything we do”.

The Principles launched today build on the WBCSD’s leadership statement on the Future of Work, launched in September 2019. Endorsed by top executives from Ayala, Banco Santander, Charoen Pokphand Group, Firmenich, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Nestlé, PMI, PWC, Randstad, Solvay, Sonae and Unilever, the statement invites business leaders to shape a sustainable future of work through people-centered solutions and collaboration with governments, educational institutions and civil society.

WBCSD’s Future of Work Project is developing supporting guidance material to further assist companies in integrating the principles in their decision making, strategies and solutions. Furthermore, companies and partner organizations are joining forces to explore and develop collaborative solutions in the areas of skills (upskilling and reskilling) as well as workers’ health and wellbeing.

23 WBCSD members are engaged in the Future of Work Project: Accenture, Ayala Corp., Charoen Pokphand (C.P.) Group, Firmenich, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Nestlé, Nomura Research Institute, OCP, Philip Morris International, Philips, Phoenix, Pirelli, PwC, Randstad, Santander, Solvay, Sonae, The Navigator Company, Total, Unilever, Verizon and Whirlpool.
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